Friday, February 28, 2014

Mark 1:14-43 Live Life in the Kingdom

Reading the New Testament can sure be some slow going! There is so much to learn - so much to discuss! Today we hear Jesus proclaim the good news. What is it that he is proclaiming?

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15 NIV)

The good news, the gospel, is this: "The kingdom of God has come near." It has come near for you. It is at hand. It is not some far away place. It is at hand!

We pray, "Thy Kingdom come... Thy will be done... on earth as it is in heaven." What does this mean for us? The Kingdom of God is at hand and it can be seen as we reach out, with the love of God, in the will of God, to love and serve our neighbors. Notice immediately after Jesus is baptized and then is tempted by Satan, he begins his ministry proclaiming this good news of the Kingdom. He goes out to call others into life (ministry) with him; proclaiming the good news and then as a member of that kingdom (as chief member) he goes out and heals the sick and drives out impure spirits so that others might live life. 

Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God and then he proceeded to show us God's will for our lives in that kingdom as he reached out to make whole the people he encountered; to give them life; to help them live life on earth as it is in heaven.

May you live life in the Kingdom of God, even today. May His will be done on earth, even as it is in heaven.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mark 1:9-13 The Wilderness Follows Baptism

 "At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him." (Mark 1:9-13 NIV)

Immediately following his baptism; immediately after being anointed by the Holy Spirit; Jesus is sent by that same Spirit to the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. He is there for forty days.

During my seventeen years of public ministry this is what I have observed most often: Following baptism or affirmation of baptism by people of consenting age; they disappear into the wilderness, often never to return. When and if they do return, it is usually only for a special holy day once or twice a year or even every other year. Sometimes they will come for someone else's baptism or maybe for a wedding or funeral. I have tried to warn them in these latter years that with the anointing of the Holy Spirit in baptism, they, too, will be tested by Satan. The devil will not be happy that they have received this sacred gift from God. But, my warnings usually fall on deaf ears - ears that do not hear. They simply do not get that becoming a child of God is about more than getting to heaven when they die. The devil gets it; but, we do not.

We are anointed at our baptisms with the Holy Spirit for very good reasons. One being; that we will need the Spirit with us as we journey through the wilderness. We also cannot forget that it was the Spirit that sent Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted in the first place. The journey through the wilderness; the temptations that will come; are the Spirit's way of preparing us for our entire life's journey as children of God; for our ministry as followers of Jesus. Remember, that Jesus' ministry did not begin until after he was baptized and after he was tempted in the wilderness.

Baptism is not just a mere ritual by which we gain entrance into the church. Do not take it lightly. As we become children of God, we are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. That will include journeying through the wilderness; being tempted by Satan; ministering to others; actually worshipping, loving, and serving our Father in heaven; doing His will. But, do not fear, for you have been anointed by the Holy Spirit. God will be with you on your journey.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mark 1:1-8 John The Baptist

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”—
 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’” (Mark 1:1-8 NIV)

We begin the Gospel according to St. Mark with "The beginning of the good news about Jesus..." The messenger is Jesus' cousin John. John the Baptist is one of my favorite characters. I often wonder what would happen; how everyone would react, to a character like him in their community today. A man wandering around in the wilderness; dressed in camel's hair; eating locusts and wild honey; ever reminding people to repent. I'm pretty sure he'd be avoided in most communities. But, in that time, he; apparently, had crowds coming to be cleansed of their sins through repentance and water baptism.

I often wonder how people would react to me, if my approach to the good news were more like that of John the Baptist. Would anyone listen? But, on the other hand, do they now? There are times when I feel quite sure that eyes do not see nor do ears hear. But, then I also know the word of the LORD and am confident that " comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ." (Rom 10:17) As long as we keep preaching the good news about Jesus;  people will hear and they will receive faith in the Messiah, the Son of God. It may not be as quickly as we (I) would like. It will be in God's time. Faith will come.

God calls us all to be messengers of His love through Jesus Christ, our LORD.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Matthew 28 - Go And Tell

Upon arriving at the tomb, the two Marys an angel of the Lord sitting on the stone that had been used to seal the tomb. But, now the tomb is no longer sealed. Jesus is not there. He is risen and on his way to Galilee! The women are a bit fearful, but filled with joyful excitement, as the angel tells them to go and tell the disciples what has happened. The guards are also there. They appear to be in some sort of shock at the sight of the angel and the empty tomb.

Mary and Mary meet Jesus as the hurry to tell the disciples what they have heard and seen. "Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matt 28:10 NIV) Go and tell!

The guards go and tell the chief priests what they have seen and heard. The chief priests respond by telling the guards to go and tell everyone that you fell asleep on guard duty and Jesus' followers came and stole his body. The chief priests, a bit fearful of the truth that Jesus had taught would continue on and change their lives forever, wanted the truth stopped. Go and tell! Go and tell a lie!

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt 28:16-20)

Go and tell! We all share stories of our lives of our loves and of our fears. What is the story you share with others? Without sharing the story of Jesus life on earth; his gift of life to us; how can disciples be made? Go and tell!

God's Peace - Pr. J

Monday, February 24, 2014

Matthew 27:58-66 - Disciples Absent From The Funeral

I have officiated at hundreds of funerals and even more graveside committals. Only a handful of them have had fewer people in attendance than at the burial of Jesus. That would be less than three. Joseph of Arimathea, a follower of Jesus; and the two Marys seem to be the only ones present. Where were the chosen twelve? We know from scripture that Judas committed suicide, so we're down to eleven and what about the hoards that had been following him around in order to be healed? This was a most unusual burial for one who had such a following while he was alive. Where were all these friends and followers?

The Sabbath was fast approaching. In just a few hours the law required no funerals, not even much movement on the part of the Jews. Maybe, the disciples were just trying to follow the Sabbath laws or maybe they had all run in fear for their own lives. As Peter had at the trial, maybe they were all so worried about their own lives, burying their friend; their teacher, was the least of their concerns. But, here we have a man who was willing to put himself out there for Jesus. Joseph was not afraid to have his name connected with the Name of Jesus. He approached Pilate, who had condemned Jesus in the first place, and asks for the body for burial. Then he takes, out of his own holdings, a clean linen cloth and with his own hands buries Jesus on his own property; in his own tomb.

Alone, with the women, Joseph is willing to align himself with Jesus, even after Jesus has been declared an outlaw by the church and state; even after he has been executed for perceived crimes.

May God grant that we never be ashamed or in fear for our lives because we dare to be associated with or praise the name of Jesus.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Matthew 27:27-56 The Crucifixion/The Kingdom/The Rapture

Tortured and beaten, mocked and crucified, the King of the Jews is put to death. But, something amazingly awesome (or awful) happens as he breathed his last breath.

"And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matt 27:50-54 NIV)

The curtain of the temple, the dividing wall between man and God, was torn in two. We no longer need the high priest to enter that sacred space to mediate between God and us. The door has been opened to all who would enter. But, even more; as the earthquake shook the city; as the dead rose; as that curtain was ripped in two; the power of God; the Kingdom of God; came rushing out to be with God's people.  Not so unlike the visual we get when the heavens are ripped open and the Holy Spirit descends at Jesus baptism; the tearing of the temple curtain is a reminder that God truly has come down to earth to be with humankind. He is not stuck far away above the clouds. He is not hidden in a room behind a curtain. He is with you. His Kingdom has come and continues to come for you through the death of Jesus the Christ.

As to the dead being raised; what can I say? I do not fully comprehend this. Some will say that this raising from the dead was merely a spiritual reawakening. When I read verses 52 and 53 it sounds like a whole lot more than a spiritual reawakening; although it may certainly have caused that as well. I think I'd be awakened more fully if I saw the graves open and the dead, now alive, walking around. I have to admit that I do not fully understand these verses. I also have to admit that I do refer to them now and then; especially when I dialogue with somehow who wants to focus on a coming rapture more than the kingdom of God present with us even now. I simply refer them to these two verses and ask them if they are so sure that maybe they didn't miss the rapture and that we're all stuck; all "left behind." After all, according to some rapture proponents, the dead will be raised from the grave either during, before or right after the rapture. As for me, I consider myself already "raptured" as Christ; the power of God; His Kingdom; broke through that wall that separates us and lives with and all around us. His glory is all around us and in us and through us. God is with us, even now! His Kingdom is at hand!

When it comes to things like the dead coming out of their graves; I think it is enough to say "I don't know exactly what this means." There is no other historical evidence (that I've seen) to verify this; but, scripture does say it happened and that is enough for me to say it was so. Just because I can't rationalize it in my mind; doesn't mean it didn't happen.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Matthew 27:1-26 - Cursing The Children

So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. (Matt 27:24-26 NRSV)

“His blood be on us and on our children!”  These are some of the hardest words I ever speak aloud. It brings tears to my eyes every time I speak them. Pilate tried to get around crucifying Jesus; but, the people were adamant. They wanted Jesus dead and would riot if he were not found guilty. They were willing to accept the guilt of killing an innocent man. They were willing to place the guilt not only on their own heads, but on the heads of their children, their own children who played no part in this murder. Who would do that? Who would curse and condemn their children like that? The thought of such a crowd; not only willing to kill an innocent man; but, to curse their children in such a manner tears at my heart. They do not have a clue that their words are a curse to the very children that Jesus is willing to die for - their children. This man, whom their children probably do not know, will die for them; while the parents curse their children. Absolutely amazing!

His blood is on us and on our children. He died for us. God has turned this curse into a blessing. It is by his blood that our sins our washed away. Let us not curse our children, any longer; but, help them to understand the great love God has for us through Jesus Christ, our LORD.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Friday, February 21, 2014

Matthew 26:69-75 - Non-verbal Denial

   Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
   But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
   Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
   He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”
   After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”
   Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Matt 26:69-75 NIV)

How many times have we denied Jesus? Peter denies him verbally. How many times have we denied him by our silence or by our supporting the statements of someone who does verbally deny him?

Just wondering...

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Matthew 26:36-46 - Pray One Hour

  Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
  Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt 26:36-41 NIV)

We were having a prayer vigil. Individuals and families volunteered to come to the sanctuary to pray for one hour during the hours beginning right after the Maundy Thursday Service until the Good Friday Service. I had volunteered for three hours, from 3 a.m. until 6 a.m., as I lived right next door and I thought it would be easier for me than others who would have to drive to the church at such early hours. I began my hours praying, kneeling in front of the altar, next to the baptismal font. I was awakened by the couple, who was to follow me, to find them kneeling and praying at the altar. They had come in quietly and didn't want to disturb me. I had fallen asleep, on my knees, leaning against the baptismal font. Every Maundy Thursday, I recall this time. Apparently, it is not only those first disciples who cannot keep watch, stay awake, and pray for "one hour."

The spirit is willing, but so often the flesh is weak.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Matthew 26:31-35 - Will You Deny Jesus?

Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. (Matt 26:31-35 NIV)

The Lord knows that Peter is not going to keep this promise. In fear for his own safety, Peter will deny him thrice that very night. Even today people around the world are persecuted; are threatened with torture and even death for His sake. We may wonder how Peter, who knew Jesus so intimately, could desert him? But, what about us? Jesus died for us! He died that we might live! Would we deny him? Do we love the Lord enough to consider dying for his sake? Are we honestly able to declare "Even if I have die for Jesus' sake, I will never deny Him;" let alone keep that vow?

Consider too, this day, how it is that we might be denying him, not by just our words, but by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Matthew 26:17-30 - This Is My Body

In a couple of weeks our third graders will begin preparing to receive their first Communion on Maundy Thursday. At Zion, we remember the night in which he was betrayed and the night that he shared this Passover meal with his disciples, by the washing of our children's feet prior to them gathering at the Lord's Table to receive his body and blood for the first time. Not that they have not already been preparing; but, during Lent they will focus more intently on "What does this mean?" as a part of our pre-confirmation Sunday School curriculum.

I, as well as many of our members, get a little anxious that everyone may or may not understand that in receiving this "communion," we are receiving the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is not just a memorial. Communion is one of the means of grace, by which Christ comes to abide in us and we in Him. We are emptied of our sin, through the forgiveness received in this Sacrament, and then filled back up with the presence of Christ with the same Sacrament. (So, tell me again, why you're not rushing to the Lord's Table at every opportunity.)

This question is asked of everyone learning about this Sacrament: "How do we know that we are truly receiving the body and blood of Jesus?" The answer I usually receive is: "Because Jesus said it is."  Indeed he did.

   While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
   Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matt 26:26-28 NIV)

God's Peace - Pr. J

Monday, February 17, 2014

Matthew 26:14-16 - Betraying Jesus

Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over. (Matt 26:14-16 NIV)

For thirty pieces of silver, his follower, his friend, betrayed Jesus. Yet, there was more to it than the love of money. Judas had hoped for an insurrection. He was looking for an earthly king. He had his own agenda. It was not God's agenda. Judas' priority, all along, had not been advancing Jesus' mission here on earth, but his own.

How often do we do that? How often do we betray Jesus? We are not so unlike this Judas, are we? Judas was willing to sell Jesus out because he saw that there was no longer any hope in his own political agenda. What is it that will entice us to turn our backs on Jesus and go the other way? What is our ultimate concern? God's will or achieving our own personal desires in this world?

If we are honest with ourselves; if we examine our hearts, I'm guessing that we will find many little things that will cause us to turn our backs on the will of God for us as well as for the whole world. When was the last time you told God: "No, I'm not going. I have better things to do than to worship You or follow you or do your will today."? It may have been just a few moments ago or maybe it was on Sunday?

God's Peace - Pr. J

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Matthew 26:1-13 - Mary's Anoints the King

I have, on at least one occasion, considered pouring anointing oil over the head of a loved one, when they really frustrated me, thinking that just maybe the "anointing" might have a positive effect. Don't worry, the thought flashed in and out of my mind quite quickly. No one, that I know, would appreciate having oil or perfume poured over their heads. They just wouldn't be able to put such a good construction on it as Jesus did when Mary anointed his head with oil at dinner.

In exuberant love, possibly, maybe most probably, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Mary anoints Jesus' head with very expensive perfume. The disciples reacted, as I would, "why are you wasting money like that?" But, Jesus, loves Mary and he knows that Mary loves him. He receives this gift graciously and tells the disciples: "When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial." (Matt 26:12 NIV) This was two days before the Passover, when he would eat his last supper, with his disciples. It was three days before his death and burial. There will be no time for Jesus' body to be anointed for burial as his body will be placed in the tomb quickly before the Sabbath begins on Friday eve. There will be no anointing, after his death, because he will rise from the grave before the women can get there on Sunday morning. So, this is it. This is his anointing for burial. I'm pretty sure Mary did not understand the overall implications of what she was doing. Love had guided her to anoint Jesus. Just as King David, generations before him, had been anointed by Samuel; the one who was least expected to be King; was anointed the King. No one, not even the disciples, that day, could begin to fathom the true Kingship of the one they followed.

Things happen. Sometimes, they don't seem or look right to us. But, remember, always, that God has a plan - a good plan... So be careful when you decide to judge something. Not everything is as it seems.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Matthew 25 - Unprepared Virgins

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps." (Matt 25:1-4 NIV) 

I have occasionally been accused of worrying too much. What they should understand about me is that all my busyness is not due to worry; it is what I consider being prepared. If I am going to a meeting, I like to have everything that I might need, copied and organized, ready to go and in my bag, at least the night before. Trips to town actually include a plan in my head on where I need to go, in which order, and what I need to bring with me to accomplish the most in the least amount of time. I contact family members in town, just to check if there is anything they need or want from out here or from any of the places I will stop before I see them. That is to avoid having to go back to the same shop on errands for someone else. I do get a little flustered when I finish my errands and I get a text asking me to take care of something at a place that I just left. I really like organization. It's not worry. It is preparation. I just don't like missing opportunities (doors that might be open) to live life. Can you imagine missing out on the opportunity to live and enjoy life in His Kingdom, in His presence? I'd rather not entertain that possibility and so it behooves me to try to do all that I can to be prepared; not suffering my light to go out; but, allowing the light to shine in and through me.

Five of the virgins were wise and prepared for the bridegroom to come and take them to the wedding feast. Five were not. They did not take enough oil with them, in the case that the bridegroom would be delayed. They had to go and purchase oil at the eleventh hour. When they returned they found that the bridegroom had come for those who had been prepared. They tried to gain admittance to the wedding banquet; but, it was too late. The door was shut.

Are you prepared? Are you ready for the Lord to come and take you to be with Him at the great wedding feast? We can never know all that the Lord has in store for us. Therefore, be prepared for all the glorious possibilities and "...keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour." (Matt 25:13)

God's Peace - Pr. J

Friday, February 14, 2014

Matthew 24 - St. Valentine

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Matt 24:9-13 NIV)

Today is St. Valentine's Day. I am not exactly sure how we came to be buying gifts for those whom we love on St. Valentine's Day; after all, according to tradition, February 14th is actually the day we commemorate St. Valentine's martyrdom. He refused to deny Christ and was beheaded for his ardent love of God.

So, maybe, love is the perfect theme for the day. St. Valentine's love for God did not grow cold; not even in the face of death. 

How about ours? Has our love for God grown cold? Do you love Him so much that you cannot wait to hear His Word on Sunday mornings or whenever it is your community gathers together as one body to worship Him? Do you love Him so much that you want others to know about the love of your life? One of my pet peeves for years has been to attend a meeting or dinner with other Christians and the name of Jesus never even comes up. (Really irritating when the group are all ordained!) There is talk about baseball, football, fishing, hunting, the weather, propane prices; there may even be a few very bad jokes; but, no Jesus. How does that relay our love of God; our gratefulness that Jesus loved us so much He was willing to die for us?

When people genuinely love someone it is a natural outflow to talk about the person they love. A loving parent or grandparent talk about their little ones (no matter how old they get) because they love them. They are a central part of their lives. So, it seems to me, if God is our ultimate concern; if we truly love Him; then we will talk about Him. We will share the stories of our love with others.

The stories of St. Valentine tell us of a man who was so willing to confess His love for Jesus, that he was willing to die for the love of His life. He is not alone. There are many in our history. Even today, many are persecuted for daring to profess their love for the God who loves so much that He who was willing to die for them.

Has our love for God grown cold? Do we truly love our neighbors, as God loves us?

Have a blessed St. Valentine's Day.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Matthew 23 - Open The Door

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." (Matt 23:13 NIV)

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in what we should or should not do here in this world, we forget all about the Kingdom of God. We forget to tell people that the door to the Kingdom is open to all who believe. If one doesn't even know that it's open, how will they know to enter through it?

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees were like that. They were so busy worrying about appearances; they were so worried about looking good; they were so worried about making sure that every little ordinance that they came up with was obeyed to the letter that they either didn't know how or maybe they forgot to just "be" and "live" in God's presence. Consequently, since they did not enter into God's presence, they were not able to teach others this great mystery, either.

God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ, so that we might be reconciled to God in His Kingdom and not just in the future life after death (as seems to be a popular notion); but, in the here and now. He desires that we should be reconciled; to "be" with Him; to "live life" in Him; in His Kingdom, even now.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing." (Matt 23:37)

Will you enter through the door of the Kingdom? It has been opened for you, by Jesus Christ, our LORD.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Matthew 22:41-46 - Figure It Out!

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
“The son of David,” they replied.
He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
    under your feet.”’
If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.  (Matt 22:41-46 NIV)

They had tried, on more than one occasion, to trip up Jesus. They had tried to catch him blaspheming. But, with no success. Now, it Jesus' turn. "Figure it out, guys! If the Messiah is the son of David, why does David call him Lord?" Why did the Lord say of this descendant of David that all his enemies will be put under his feet? (Psalm 110:1) Why did the Lord promise to make this son of David a priest in the order of Melchizedek? (Psalm 110:4) There was no response from the  Pharisees. Jesus is the Lord!

One thing I can say for the Pharisees: they knew the scriptures and they knew that there was no further place to go in this debate. Reading and knowing the Holy Scriptures is definitely a worthwhile project if we are going to be discussing and debating who or what the LORD is or does or has done.
Happy reading....!

God's Peace - Pr. J.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Matthew 22:34-40 - Love

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’" (Matt 22:37-39 NIV)

Love - that's it in a nutshell. Once we begin to love, we no longer have to worry about what we do or do not do. Our love for God and others will direct us, with the help of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit. There will be peace. There will be reconciliation.

May God grant that each of us should be filled with His Holy Spirit, with His love.

God's Peace - Pr. J.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Matthew 22:23-33 - Married To Man Or To The Lamb

We have today one of my many favorite scripture readings.

First, we need to make note that the Sadducees were once again testing Jesus as they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. I understand that is why they were "sad, you see?" (sorry, couldn't resist temptation)

Secondly, I have never quite figured out how this desire to be reunited with our family after death has become such a priority in our concept of the Kingdom of God. I imagine that this imaginary widow may have (or may not have) loved at least one or more of these seven brothers. She may (or may not have) genuinely grieved the loss of every one one of them. My personal desire is to be reconciled to God first and then all my brothers and sisters in Christ. As, I have said, on many occasions previously. "There is a blood that is thicker than blood. It is the blood of Christ shed for you." All who believe will be and are united with God and with one another in the Kingdom of God.

Years ago, I studied with a certain Christian sect. They were pretty insistent that in the New World we would live with our families. I just could never figure out which family that was. I would live in the same house with my husband and children, my husband's parents and their children and their children; as well as my sisters and their children and their multiple husbands' parents and all of their brothers and sisters and children. Families could get quite large and I could just never figure the point of it all. Sounds just a might carnal for a spiritual kingdom to me. But, that's just me. I'm thinking that maybe (just maybe) in the Kingdom of Heaven we will find amazing joy and the peace that surpasses all understanding; as we find ourselves in the presence of God.

The marriage I am looking for in the Kingdom is found in Revelation 19:9: "Then the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!' And he added, 'These are the true words of God.'"

God's Peace - Pr. J

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Mattew 22:15-22 - In Whom Do You Trust?

The Pharisees tried to trip up Jesus by getting him to either deny the law of the land (Caesar) or the temple law. "Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?" they asked. Upon inspection of the coin that would be used for this tax, they found Caesar's image and inscription on. At the time there were two (at least) types of currency being used. One was Roman and the other Jewish. The reason for the moneychangers to have been in the court yard, from Matthew 21:12-17, was so the people could exchange their Roman money for Jewish currency as they could not use Roman currency to purchase the animals they needed to make their required offerings at the temple.

So when his would be accusers are asked to show him a coin; they empty their pockets (bags?) and come up with, not a Jewish coin, but a Roman one. So then, who is the author of this coin? To whom does it belong? Who is it that they put their trust in (a bit of a stretch, but I'm going there, anyway); God or Caesar? So here's a little food for thought... Empty out your purse, or wallet, or maybe that drawer or closet. What have you got hidden where no one can see it? Does it belong to God or man? Where is your allegiance? Whom or what have you put your faith in? In whom do you trust?

God's Peace - Pr. J

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Matthew 22:1-14 - I Cannot Come

“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come." (Matt 22:2-3 NIV)

Oh, yes, a goodly number of us want to go this banquet after we are dead and buried; but, how about today? Are we willing to sit at that table today? Maybe, there's a more enticing table set someplace for you than at the Lord's Table? Not everyone that's been invited will be at the table eating and drinking; receiving the "foretaste of the feast to come." Some will decline for a "better" offer.

On the occasions that this parable shows is our Sunday reading, our choir usually sings "I Cannot Come To The Banquet." (I could not find the author's name - possibly The Medical Mission Sisters, 1966?) 

I cannot come.
I cannot come to the banquet, don't trouble me now.
I have married a wife.
I have bought me a cow.
I have fields and commitments
That cost a pretty sum.
Pray, hold me excused,
I cannot come.

A certain man held a feast on his fine estate in town.
He laid a festive table and wore a wedding gown.
He sent invitations to his neighbors far and wide
But when the meal was ready, each of them replied:

 I cannot come.
I cannot come to the banquet, don't trouble me now.
I have married a wife.
I have bought me a cow.
I have fields and commitments
That cost a pretty sum.
Pray, hold me excused,
I cannot come.

The master rose up in anger, called his servants by name,
"Go into the town, fetch the blind and the lame,
Fetch the peasant and the pauper for this I have willed,
My banquet must be crowded, and my table must be filled."

 I cannot come.
I cannot come to the banquet, don't trouble me now.
I have married a wife.
I have bought me a cow.
I have fields and commitments
That cost a pretty sum.
Pray, hold me excused,
I cannot come.

When all the poor had assembled,
There was still room to spare,
So the master demanded: "Go search ev'rywhere,
To the highways and the byways
And force them to come in.
My table must be filled before the banquet can begin.

 I cannot come.
I cannot come to the banquet, don't trouble me now.
I have married a wife.
I have bought me a cow.
I have fields and commitments
That cost a pretty sum.
Pray, hold me excused,
I cannot come.

Yes, no? What will it be? Will you come to the banquet?

God's Peace - Pr. J

P.S. Hope to see you at the Lord's Table.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Matthew 21:14-45 - Faithful and Fruitful

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants
    you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” (Matt 21:16 NIV)

Today we have parables relating to the destruction of those things which are not fruitful and do not glorify God. Jesus curses the fig tree that was not produce so that he could eat of it fruit. It died. The parable of the two son reminds us that it not the one who promises, but doesn't act; but the one who is faithful and fruitful who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The parable of the tenants reminds us that we are but tenants on God's land. All that we have belongs to Him. How then or why is it that we often give more to our leisure time, personal indulgences and pleasure, than to the work of His Kingdom?

God sent His own Son to us and yet, we killed him. Do we suppose we would not do the same thing today, if he were here insinuating that we are not doing His Father's will? Well, his word is here. It has not changed. He is here. What is he saying to us in his word today? Has that word been rejected?

Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures:
'The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”  (Matt 21:42-44)

May all God's children give thanks and praise for the marvelous works of God. Produce fruit and give to God what is God's. (see next chapter - Matt 22:21)

God's Peace - Pr. J

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Matthew 21:12-13 - House of Prayer

"Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 'It is written,' he said to them, 'My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’ (Matt 21:12-13 NIV)

The story about Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple has always made me just a little anxious. Small congregations (maybe large ones, too) often have fund-raisers to support their budgets. We sell stuff in order to pay the bills. Sometimes, these fund-raisers come in the form of meals or maybe art and craft fairs or even a rummage sale. I worry that maybe we're not trusting God to provide for us through the generosity of His children's offerings to Him and His work through the congregation. I am of the mind that anything that comes in to support God's work through the church should be a free-will offering to the glory of God and not an exchange for services. After all, when Jesus paid our debt on the cross, he did that freely and willingly. I guess, in today's economy, purchasing a product or service could be considered a way of supporting a congregation and mission. At least the world would see it that way. I'm not so sure God sees it that way. Even the U.S. Government does not consider that a charitable contribution. 

We do have traditional fund-raisers at Zion. I call them traditional because they have existed since long before I was born. Events like the Hunter's Supper, Women's Bazaar, or Ice Cream Social can be great times of fellowship and evangelism. I am always praying that everyone involved keeps the focus on welcoming our neighbors; rather than, primarily exchanging goods for money. For the last two summers, I have helped the youth organize a rummage sale at Zion for youth retreats. We do not put a price on anything, which makes the organizing a whole lot easier. We ask for donations of whatever one feels the items are worth to them and that they can afford. The results are very good, indeed. We also have fund-raisers, usually concerts, where proceeds go directly to other charitable organizations, such as St. Vincent De Paul, or Toys for Tots, or to support mission congregations in Russia. Members of the whole community provide the music as well as a light lunch for all of our guests following the concerts, again with no charge. These latter fund-raisers have no entrance fees; free-will offerings are suggested for the concert, but not imposed. The congregation usually over-flows into the narthex and the library with these events. These are wonderful opportunities to welcome and fellowship with our neighbors as we support those in need.

But, I am always on guard to keep the focus of "fund-raisers" on welcoming people to God's house, rather than selling. This is, after-all, a house of prayer. May God help us to continue trusting in Him alone for all our needs. May God help us to continue welcoming people into His house of prayer, in all that we might do for His glory.

God's Peace - Pr. J

P.S. All are welcome at Zion!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Matthew 21:1-11 - Save Us, We Pray

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matt 21:9 NIV)

As I was reading this morning's scripture verses, I wondered what exactly the word Hosanna meant. I know that it is used by us and was used by the people in the story of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem as a shout of acclamation and praise. But, what does the word actually mean? So, I googled. The definitions included pray and save, which didn't help me much. That just didn't seem to fit in to the context of the acclamations of praise. I finally ran across this [Old English osanna, via Late Latin from Greek, from Hebrew hōshi `āh nnā save now, we pray] at . This ordering of words helped me to understand the word, hosanna, a bit better. "Save now, we pray, Son of David! Save now, we pray, in the highest heaven."

It was within the week that Jesus accomplished this life giving, life giving act of salvation that they people prayed for. It was within that very week that Jesus died for us.

May the God of peace, save us we pray, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Matthew 20 - Last, First; First, Last

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last.'” (Matt 20:13-16 NIV)

In the parable of the workers of the vineyard, it appears that the wages are not given out fairly. Those who work for one hour receive the same payment as those who labor all day. In the end, Jesus' response is: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matt 20:16)

We sometimes complain that life is not fair. "I work so hard and receive so much less than those who don't appear to work as hard. Life is not fair." Well, ask yourself this: Was it fair that Jesus died for my sins? He did nothing wrong. He was without sin. Yet, he took our places and our punishment so that we might be reconciled to our Father in heaven. Was it fair for one man to receive the penalty for the sins of the whole world?  He put himself last, humbled himself for us, and now is first in the Kingdom of God. He reigns!

God does not think or act like we do. That's probably a really good thing for us. What seems right or just in our eyes, doesn't necessarily make it just in God's eyes. Jesus says the last shall be first and the first will be last. Something about that just doesn't seem right to us. But, it is God's word. It is his plan.

Thanks be to God, it is He who is in charge and not we.

God's Peace - Pr. J

Monday, February 3, 2014

Matthew 19 - Love of Money

     Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
     When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
     Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt 19:23-26 NIV)

Whenever I read this Gospel in public worship, I get a very uncomfortable feeling. After all, everyone sitting there is richer than a good portion of the world's people. I always hope that they understand that the temptations of having an abundance of stuff are great. This stuff can easily become our false gods, without us even realizing that it has. We become comfortable with our stuff and want more. And, more of our time and energy is spent on ways to accumulate more stuff, which when we die will be gone from us, anyway. Our stuff will be gone. The Kingdom endures forever.

I look out at the congregation and I know that very many of these people have used there wealth for the good of others and for the good of the Kingdom. I, and they, must trust that; although, it is impossible for any of us to enter the Kingdom of God on what we have or don't have; it is impossible to enter into the Kingdom on our own merit, with God all things are possible. It is faith alone that saves and that faith in the Kingdom promised through the blood of Christ will fill us with a desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, giving ourselves; our time, our talents, our "stuff" in the service of God and our fellow human beings.

Years (decades) ago, I sold insurance door-to-door in North Carolina. One particular home that I visited had a dirt floor. It was a farming household. They were rich. No, I don't mean they were rich because they had all they really needed. They were literally millionaires. But, they chose to live a lifestyle that appeared to others that they were even poorer than were. The wife was in the kitchen working when I got there. She was visibly upset. Her husband was working in the fields somewhere. After she calmed down, she explained to me how rich they were and she could not get her husband to upgrade their home because he didn't want to lose a penny to the local government. He didn't want to take the chance on having his property taxes raised.

Another elderly farmer's wife that I knew (again a couple decades ago) in Minnesota had a similar story. They had a very nice home, a huge farm. I didn't see much of her husband as he was always out in the barn or fields working. They were both very pleasant people. One day, I found her crying in the kitchen. She had wanted so much to go on a cruise with her husband. It's not that they couldn't afford it. She related to me that years before they had sold some property and invested quite wisely. They, too, were millionaires. But, her husband was what we would call a workaholic. He would not take the time to go away with her. He would not trust his farm to the hired hands. He was afraid he might lose a penny or two while he was away.

The love of money is a great temptation. It will tempt some to spend, spend, spend.... It will tempt others to hoard, hoard, hoard....  It will tempt us to spend time worrying more about our wealth than loving God or our families and neighbors.

I'm just saying that it is not so much about what you have or don't have; but, about what you do with what God has given you. Are you faithful to God in caring for the gifts He has given you? Do you use these gifts so that His will be done and not yours?

Wealth brings great temptations. In the end, we are all subject to these temptations and we are all lost. But, with God all things are possible. Thanks be to God that we are saved, not by our works, but by His grace!

God's Peace - Pr. J

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Matthew 18 - Visiting Sheep

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish." (Matthew 18:10-14 NIV)

On a pretty regular basis, I am out and about checking in on sheep who may or may not have wandered or maybe have never been shown the gate into the sheepfold. Shepherds do that. They seek the lost sheep. I am pretty fortunate in serving a congregation, who for the most part, understands this. They don't question who I've been visiting because over the years they've seen the sheep enter into the fold. In fact, they may have been one of them that was welcomed with open arms, like a long-lost friend, or as a prodigal son, as one of the members (who is much older than I) calls me, "mother." He knows that like a shepherd or a mother, even when I am not visiting him, I am always on the alert that nothing should happen to him. That's just the way it is with shepherds and parents. We are concerned that none should be harmed - none should be lost.

I have been in this community for a little over 15 years. I know just about everyone in the county. Every now and then God will put it in my heart to visit someone who is an acquaintance - someone I know through others - but, don't really know them. I have never regretted making those visits. I don't usually call ahead. I just stop and knock. Doors have been opened and I have always found them anxious for the company. Sometimes, they have been waiting for a word of hope. Other times they needed comfort or encouragement. Sometimes, they just needed someone to listen. Visiting others can be an amazing adventure. One never knows what one will encounter when you knock on someone's door. I have shoveled sidewalks, made coffee, washed dishes, cooked for them in their homes. I have found them on the floor. I have stayed beside them and held them for hours as they suffered through symptoms of withdrawal. I have found them abused and neglected. One just never knows what one will encounter when you knock on a door. Once you step outside those church doors, you can never know what doors will be opened to you or how many lost sheep you will encounter. (Course there are also a few lost sheep within the "church" as well - not to be neglected)

I would ask those of you who would have their pastors in their offices daily and serving only the "members" of that particular congregation rather than out seeking the lost sheep to please reconsider. The "church" that exists only for themselves and is not out seeking and serving the sheep outside the fold is really not a church. It is a social club.

Our Father is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

God's Peace - Pr. J
P.S. I call this evangelism and it is not my "job." It is what the abiding Christ does through all of us. It is a way of life. It is who we are.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Matthew 17:14-26 - Mustard Seed

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt 17:20-21 NIV)
It is almost unbelievable to me that we do not have the faith of a mustard seed. I said, almost. The evidence is there. No mountains have been moved that I know about, lately. There are plenty of sick people to be healed, hungry to be fed, and a world full of lonely people who know no peace.

But, again, I said "almost unbelievable." Remember the story of the mustard tree? "Then Jesus asked, 'What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.'” (Luke 13:18-19)

The mustard seed does not miraculously grow into a tree overnight. It takes times. It is more of a process.  A seed is planted. It is watered and fertilized. The mustard seed actually has to do nothing to make itself grow. It grows because that is in the nature of the mustard seed. Such is the Kingdom of God. All our hard work at trying to fix things and create a utopia here on earth amounts to nothing without faith in the One who provides the increase. It is God who provides the blessings.

Indeed, I have seen some pretty miraculous healings in my lifetime. I have seen things accomplished for the good of man that many would have thought were not possible. But, like the mustard seed growing into a full blown tree that will feed the multitudes of birds, so the Kingdom of God is growing. Slowly (at least according to our reckoning of time), but surely it is advancing bringing with it wholeness and peace.

God's Peace - Pr. J