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November 18, 2018, 12:00 AM

Hold Fast!


by Sandy Bach

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’[a] and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.  (Mark 13:1-8 NRSV)

April 19, 1995.  A day that lives in infamy for Oklahoman's.

The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building wasn't the biggest or tallest building ever built.  However, it was large and lovely and imposing.  It spoke of permanency.  It felt solid.  No one ever dreamed that this building would some day be a pile of rubble.

We spent weeks watching our televisions.  The rescue attempts were followed by the search for the dead.  The rescue dogs became depressed because they had been trained to find live people and they found too many dead bodies.  The fire fighter who held a tiny child's body in his arms is a picture we'll never forget.  The endless interviews with the victims' families and the ribbons and flowers on the fence surrounding the plaza.

For years we mourned the loss.  We watched the trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.  When the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial was opened, we toured it with sadness, reliving that awful day, once again.  There's an empty chair for each victim of the bombing.  Too many of the chairs represented the children.

The Murrah building wasn't a patch on the temple in Jerusalem.   The Temple was a splendid structure, one of the greatest achievements of Herod the Great.  Its enormous marble stones were adorned with gold.  It wasn't a mere building, but a sprawling structure of walkways, porches, balconies and grand stairways.  Herod built it to impress the wealthy and powerful leaders of the day.  He exceeded his own expectations.

There was no way that this building could come down.  Yet, Jesus vowed that it would be utterly flattened.  While the disciples gaze on it and feel its permanence and strength and security, Jesus sees it gone.  And it would come to pass in 70 C.E.

Later, only a few disciples come to him with the big question.  "When?"

Jesus doesn't really answer that question.  He tells them what to look for:  False Messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, the rise and fall of empires, famines.

Nothing new about that.  I've lived through several wars and "police actions."  I've witnessed threats of wars.  I can't count the number of major weather events including Tsunami's, hurricanes and super storms.  I've rejoiced at the fall of Berlin Wall.

And I know enough about history to understand what the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote when he said, ""A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever." (1:4)  There's nothing new under the sun.

So, thank you, Jesus.  But that wasn't helpful.  Can't you give us something clearer so we'll know what to look for?

His answer is, "No."

Oh.  What are we to do?

Hold fast.  Keep your eye on me, not on the downed building.  Keep your eye on God's activity in history.

A few months after the Murrah Building bombing, I read and listened to stories shared.  One story resonates with me today, thanks to a book entitled, "Where Was God at 9:02 AM?" (by Robin Jones, Sandy Dengler [Thomas Nelson Publishers; October 1, 1995])

There was to be a convention of restaurateurs at the nearby convention center.  The exposition had brought in chefs and cooks to display their latest equipment and serve food samples.  After the bombing, these competitors teamed up and used their equipment and food to feed the victims and responders.

Hold fast.  Keep your eye on Jesus.

Even later, I learned that, after the clean-up, the emergency managers met with leaders from across the country to share what went well and what could have gone better.  For example, they discovered that cell phones weren't a good way to communicate with the rescue teams because the cell towers were so jammed up.  Emergency plans were updated across the country and were in place on September 11, 2001.  Yes, the Murrah Building Bombing helped us respond more effectively on 9/11.

Keep your eyes on me, says Jesus.  View the wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes as the beginning of the birth pangs.  We're still in the beginning.  We're still in the yet and not yet of the kingdom of God.

We're a global community.  That means we hear more news from the around the world than ever in the past.  We can literally watch war taking place on our TV's.  Every bad thing going on in the world is available thanks to cable news, podcasts, network television and radio.  Instead of turning on the 5:00 news, we listen all day long.  Some reporters try to provide information as factually as possible, while others spice it up with spin and doom and gloom.

I grew up in Southern California.  A Saturday treat was a trip to beach.  One of our favorite games was watching the waves roll in and see how close they would come to our feet without touching them.  We'd step closer to the water and then jump back, giggling and laughing.  The waves were powerful.  Sometimes they were tall and we weren't allowed to go swimming in them.  These waves would arrive taller than an average adult and pound on the shore as if angry at the shore for some unknown reason.  Yet, we believed that the ocean would only rise so far and would remain within its watery boundaries.  We trusted that the powerful waves could be treacherous but if we left them be no one would be hurt.

Than I learned about tsunamis.  A wall of water that couldn't be stopped that moved on land like a beast.  People were killed and bodies lost.  Rebuilding takes years.  When we see the ocean today we know that it can leave its bounds and can do great and horrific harm.  And our trust level diminishes.  We're fearful and wonder, Where is God?

For Oklahoman's, God was present before, during and after.  I learned that big buildings can be brought down, just like the Temple in 70 C.E.  I learned that what humanity can do is pretty awesome and I also learned that God is even bigger than all this.

Most of all, I've come to understand that "God hasn't called the Church to be spectators of global chaos.  Rather, we're all called to be agents of love, healing, hope and justice over and against forces of evil and destruction."

Bad things are happening.  Good people will make a difference.  God will have the final victory.  Until then, I choose to get back to work, trying to make my corner of the world a better place.  Will I succeed?  Not always.  Not everywhere.  I'll fall short lots of times.  But, God doesn't call us to be successful.  God calls us to be faithful.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




November 11, 2018, 12:00 AM

We Are An Offering


Jesus Denounces the Scribes

38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

The Widow’s Offering

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

( Mark 12:38-44 NRSV)

What was she thinking?

What was the widow thinking when she put her last two cents into the temple treasury?  What did she plan to eat for dinner this evening?  Or breakfast tomorrow?

What was Jesus thinking?

He was living on borrowed time.  The shadow of the cross hung heavy over his head.  He cut down the scribes for being pompous and greedy.  We understand that he spoke truth.  And he also knew the cost of truth-telling.

When he watched the nameless widow donate the last of her money, he was in awe.  And angry.  How dare the wealthy prey on the poor!  Yet, her pittance stopped Jesus in his tracks in terms of her faithfulness.

Let's talk about the elephant in the room: money.  Dollars and cents.  Paper and plastic.  Money.

How do we view money?

One view of money is a discussion of Capitalism vs. Socialism.  The problem with that is that it leaves out human nature.  We could talk about individualism in America.  It's up to me to (fill in the blank.)  That view turns us into "spending units."  Where's the Christian reflection in being a mere unit?

Or, we can examine our relationship with money.  Money is neutral, but we give it power.  More powerful than we recognize.  Money has the power to corrupt.  Don't think so?  Then take out your wallet and give it to the next stranger you see.

Let's see what the Bible says.

Some Christians would argue that money is a blessing.  If we give enough, love enough, are faithful enough, God will provide in abundance.  The Old Testament often connects blessing with faithfulness, but it's not that simple or direct.  Talk with Job.  He lost everything because of his faith and righteousness.

The Old Testament blessings are a secondary benefit.  They are never guaranteed.

The New Testament turns the corner on material blessing.  In fact, faithfulness can lead to poverty and martyrdom.  Ask the Apostles.

If money doesn't equal blessing, we're still left where we were when we began this conversation.  And we're even more stumped by Jesus' teachings.  He tells a rich man to sell everything he has, give it to the poor and then follow Jesus.  (Mark 10:17-22.)  He openly states that it's hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.  In fact, money won't get us there -- only God can do that. (Mark 10:25-27.)

Jesus turns everything on end (as usual) when he says, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God." (Luke 6:20b)

Money doesn't earn us God's love.  We can't buy our way into God's blessing.  This view pushes God out of the way and we chase our tails trying to pursue the god (little 'g') of money.  We deceive ourselves into thinking we don't need God.

That's the most enticing temptation of all.  We have life insurance, health insurance, home insurance, automobile insurance.  They provide security when we're sick or our home is destroyed or we're in an automobile accident.  Certainly this kind of security is a good and helpful thing.  But, does it eliminate the need for God?

Perhaps we need old-fashioned Stewardship Campaigns.  The Bible is clear about one thing: we don't own anything.  It all belongs to God.  Therefore, we're accountable to God for how we steward our money.  In the Old Testament we read, "Ten for God, ninety for me."  That's called tithing.  I saw a statistic recently that we tend to give about 2% of our income to the church: "Two for God, ninety-eight for me."

And now the guilt kicks in and our giving becomes a duty and we discover we're appeasing God.

Where's our sense of discipleship?  Out the window while money, once again, holds power over us.

Do you see what I  mean?  We give money power.  We permit It to use us, to tempt us, and we wonder why we're twisted up in knots.

We believe that God is the giver of all.  God created the heavens and the earth.  God is in every aspect of our history.  God is the ultimate sacrificial giver in Jesus Christ.  We can't begin to match anything that God has done for us.  We are unworthy of these gifts, and yet, God gives anyway.  Abundantly.  Lovingly.

Rest on that for awhile and we come to the realization that all we have wasn't achieved on our efforts alone; that a system of obligation isn't enough; that if we try to keep a record on our eternity, we're so far in the red we'll never catch up.

Rest on that for awhile and money just might take it's proper seat in the background where it belongs.

Giving is a spiritual practice.  When you write that check; when you place money of any kind in the offering plate, it is a sacred moment.  We are acknowledging that our week begins with a day of rest (Sunday), not labor and that we have received a gift greater than any in Jesus Christ.

We don't give to justify ourselves.  We give as an act of holiness.

And when we focus on God's work, our giving becomes a part of God's mission here on earth.

Churches worry about money.  They're wrapped up in the concept of scarcity.  There's not enough.  And many a church is in hospice today, living on what the congregation can give, not embracing what they have as gift.

That day at the temple, the crowds were giving out of their abundance.  I don't hear Jesus criticizing the crowd.  I do hear awe in his voice when he commends her for giving her all.  Given the discussion of the egotistical religious leaders just before he watched the widow, I think he was probably angry at their use of the poor to keep the Temple wealthy.

Jesus was there that day because he had teaching to do.  And a cross to climb up on.  He did that for the widows and for you and me.

Given that, what do you do about your giving?  First, go to God in prayer.  Consider God's loving act of sacrifice.  Consider your own relationship with the almighty.  Then prayerfully consider how you will participate in God's ongoing giving.

How will you organize your life so that God can spend you?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




November 4, 2018, 12:00 AM

The Outsiders


by Sandy Bach

During the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. A man with his wife and two sons went from Bethlehem of Judah to dwell in the territory of Moab. The name of that man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the territory of Moab and settled there.

But Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died. Then only she was left, along with her two sons. They took wives for themselves, Moabite women; the name of the first was Orpah and the name of the second was Ruth. And they lived there for about ten years.

But both of the sons, Mahlon and Chilion, also died. Only the woman was left, without her two children and without her husband.

Then she arose along with her daughters-in-law to return from the field of Moab, because while in the territory of Moab she had heard that the Lord had paid attention to his people by providing food for them. She left the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law went with her. They went along the road to return to the land of Judah.

Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the Lord deal faithfully with you, just as you have done with the dead and with me. May the Lord provide for you so that you may find security, each woman in the household of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.

10 But they replied to her, “No, instead we will return with you, to your people.”

11 Naomi replied, “Turn back, my daughters. Why would you go with me? Will there again be sons in my womb, that they would be husbands for you? 12 Turn back, my daughters. Go. I am too old for a husband. If I were to say that I have hope, even if I had a husband tonight, and even more, if I were to bear sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you refrain from having a husband? No, my daughters. This is more bitter for me than for you, since the Lord’s will has come out against me.”

14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth stayed with her. 15 Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her gods. Turn back after your sister-in-law.”

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her about it.  (Ruth 1:1-18 Common English Bible (CEB)Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible)

It was the worst of times.

No food.  Famine in the land.  They watched friends and family starve to death.  Living in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, was no longer possible.  They learned that the country of Moab was doing well.  Refugees were headed that way, crossing difficult territory to arrive.

They had to think twice about this.  Moab was a sworn, longtime enemy of Israel.  In the end, their hungry bellies drove them to pack up and leave.

We can only imagine life in Moab for them.  It would have been difficult because of both their immigrant status and they were sworn enemies.  However, it appears they were at least minimally welcomed.  They settled in and made a life for themselves.  Their sons found Moabite wives and, for a time, there was peace in their lives.

Then the worst of the worst of times.  Naomi's husband died.  Widows don't fare well in the time of the judges.  At least she has her sons to rely on.  Then they die.  We don't know if it was illness, or the result of a hate crimes.  Naomi won't survive long.

Word arrives that the famine in Israel has passed.  It won't be an easy trip, and life in Israel will be difficult, but she wants to be home.  She stands a better chance of surviving in Bethlehem than in Moab.

She talks Orpah into staying in Moab.  There's nothing more Naomi can do for her daughters-in-law.  They stand a better chance in their mother's homes where they might be able to marry again.

She didn't reckon on Ruth's tenacity.

"I refuse to abandon you.  I'm going with you.  I'll live with you, I'll die with you and be buried in your land."

There's more to this vow.  She turns to the God of Israel and denounces her former religious faith.  Naomi's God is Ruth's God.  She leaves behind her Moabite culture and applies for citizenship in Israel.

This vow is rich with the Hebrew "hesed."  In a few words, it means loyalty, faithfulness and loving-kindness.  These words only begin to describe true hesed.

Hesed is a result of a bonding moment.  Ruth has tied herself to Naomi and to Naomi's land and culture and religion.  Ruth vows to never dessert her, never forget her.

"Ruth" means "friend."  This foreign, widowed, enemy woman, stays with Naomi as death pursues the women.  There are no sons to care for them, so Ruth will step in and care for them both.

Hesed.  It's a unique concern for someone you know well: a family member, a close friend.  It's an action that rescues the other from a desperate situation.  Hesed is performed by a person uniquely qualified to do what is needed.

God shows us hesed often.  God is in a unique relationship with us and knows us better than we know ourselves.  God rescues and cares for us in desperate times.  God is uniquely qualified to provide for our needs.

God shows hesed by acting through an outsider.  Ruth responds with amazing fidelity to both God and Naomi.

God isn't mentioned much in the book of Ruth, but God is definitely active.  God acts in terms of reversals: an outsider caring for Naomi; a husband to redeem them and provide a child to inherit Elemilich's estate; this child will be the father of David, ancestor of Jesus.

Strange, isn't it?  Of all the people in all the land, God calls an outsider, lowly, widowed, stranger and enemy to bring about redemption.  God chooses the outsider to model for us loyalty and devotion.  And Jesus' family tree has a mixed race branch.

Strange, isn't it?  That God calls on the outsider, the enemy, the excluded to bring about God's redemption.

I love the story of Ruth.  The two women make their way through life, securing redemption.  Ruth's barrenness will end.  Death leads to rebirth.

I can't help but wonder.  Who are the Boaz's today?  Where are the Ruth's and Naomi's?  Perhaps walking toward the U.S. seeking asylum.

If so, what do we do?  How can we respond responsibly and faithfully?

What does hesed look like today?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




October 21, 2018, 12:00 AM

Jesus’ Way of Suffering Love: First In Line


by Sandy Bach

35 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, came up to him. “Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us.”

36 “What is it? I’ll see what I can do.”

37 “Arrange it,” they said, “so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left.”

38 Jesus said, “You have no idea what you’re asking. Are you capable of drinking the cup I drink, of being baptized in the baptism I’m about to be plunged into?”

39-40 “Sure,” they said. “Why not?”

Jesus said, “Come to think of it, you will drink the cup I drink, and be baptized in my baptism. But as to awarding places of honor, that’s not my business. There are other arrangements for that.”

41-45 When the other ten heard of this conversation, they lost their tempers with James and John. Jesus got them together to settle things down. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”  (Mark 10:35-45 The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Oh dear.  James and John, do you have any idea what you're asking for?

Will you be baptized like Jesus in the muddy Jordan River, entering into the lives of those you've been called to serve?  Will you enter willingly into the horrible, degrading trial that awaits Jesus?  Are you able to be flogged before being forced to drag your cross to Calvary?  Will you drink the cup that is crucifixion?

Or will you freeze with horror when your teacher is arrested and run for the hills during the trial?  Will you deny him?

You don't have a clue, do you, James and John?  You don't have any idea what you're asking?

They want security.  They're afraid of what Jesus has been telling them.  He's warned them that he'll be handed over and condemned to death.  He'll be handed over to the Romans and they'll mock him and spit on him and flog him and kill him.  They understand that part.  That's what happens to people who stand up to the status quo or fight to free Israel from Rome.

His final statement makes no sense.  "after three days he will rise again."

He'll what?  Rise where?  How?

And so they're scared.  Scared to ask questions.  Scared to consider what their teacher is trying to tell them.   They think they'll be fighting with swords and spears.  They want security. When Jesus wins the throne of David, they want to know that Jesus loved them best.

They don't get it.  I trust neither would any of us on the front side of resurrection.

They ask him to do for John and James whatever they ask of him.  That's what my son used to do when he wanted permission to do what he knew we wouldn't permit.  It's a childish game.

When do we do that?  When do we try to tell God what God should be doing?  "Thy will be done," becomes "my will be done."  We are such control freaks that we forget that God is in control and has a better view of life than we do.

Jesus asks them a good question. "What is it you want me to do for you?" He doesn't say yes or no to their request.  "Just spit it out.  What's on your mind?"

And when he hears the request, is he all that surprised?  Is God all that surprised when we ask of God what we have no business asking?  Make my life comfortable so I don't have to suffer and help me become a more spiritual person.  It's when we struggle that we discover our spirituality.  So, what will it be?  Shallow or deep?

"You don't know what you're asking."  And neither do we.  We yearn for peace while we struggle over gun control laws.  We want to see the end to poverty without being a part of the solution.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was fond of saying, “'What will you have?' quoth God; 'pay for it, and take it.'”

James and John would eventually pay for it with their lives.  Christians throughout the centuries have paid for it with their lives.  We may not fear for our lives, but we have other fears that hold us back.

What will you have?  What do you crave in your heart and soul?  What is breaking your heart?  Is it poverty or a bad marriage?  Is it war or a body wracked with disease?  Is it change that makes our world look so completely different or a deeply felt unhappiness?

What are you willing to pay?  Will you give up control and hand it over to God, finally saying with depth of feeling, "Your will be done?" Will you escape from that prison in which you hold yourself?  Will you place trust in God like a child?  Will you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself?

Will you set aside your own sense of importance in order to be a servant?

I suggest that in your best moments, you do.  Look back when you have forgotten your own needs in service of someone else.  When have you felt yourself free from a life of routine and boredom and the sameness day after day?  When have found a new center?

If you're not there now, why not?  Who or what has gotten in between you and God and caused you to demand the false security of greatness?

We yearn to be comforted and comfortable.  We can't know what that looks like until we've experienced discomfort.  We pray for wealth and when we get it, we pray for something so much deeper.  All too often we get what we pray for and then the price that goes with it.

If it sounds like I'm telling you to quit praying, I'm not.  What I'm suggesting is that when we pray, we honestly and authentically say, "Not my will by yours be done."  That we enter into life with Christ knowing that there is joy to be found within the hard stuff.  That when we quit asking Christ to walk with us, we walk with him and allow him to point out to us his call on our lives.

Most of us desire greatness.  We want to be noticed in a positive light.  We need to have our best efforts affirmed.  Sometimes we get it, sometimes we get passed by.  This is normal.

James and John didn't simply want an "atta boy." They wanted to know that when this battle was over there would be a place for them near their rabbi.  There's nothing wrong with that, either.  I suggest that what they craved was assurance from Jesus that they would never be separated from him come what may.

Their journey will take them to Jerusalem, as promised.  It will take them through the terror of Jesus' arrest, the horror of his torture, the nightmare of crucifixion.  They will find emptiness and heartache and abandonment on Friday.  They will know joy like never before the following Sunday.

They will follow Jesus and they'll know greatness.  They will care more about following and serving than about greatness.  They'll drink Christ's cup and they'll die for it.  Their greatness lies in their service, not their desires.

These past several weeks we've looked at Jesus' Way of Suffering Love.  When we decide to follow Jesus and serve him, we listen and learn: that true greatness comes when we deny ourselves to help others; that we can be grateful that Jesus won't be squeezed into our mold of what he should "do"; that wealth must be rigorously managed or it will manage us; that when we accept the kingdom like a child possibilities abound.

Real life happens when we follow Jesus.  True greatness happens.  Life takes on new perspectives and is more exciting and is more grace-filled than when we sit on the sidelines waiting for God to serve us.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




October 14, 2018, 12:00 AM

Jesus’ Way of Suffering Love: Wedges of Wealth


by Sandy Bach

17 As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”

18-19 Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”

20 He said, “Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!”

21 Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”

22 The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.

23-25 Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?” The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: “You can’t imagine how difficult. I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.”

26 That set the disciples back on their heels. “Then who has any chance at all?” they asked.

27 Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.”

28 Peter tried another angle: “We left everything and followed you.”

29-31 Jesus said, “Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first.”  Mark 10:17-31

 

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Jesus knows how comfortable we are with our possessions.  This week he's making extreme demands -- sell everything, give to the poor, follow me; extreme judgement: it's impossible for the wealthy to enter the kingdom.  He also makes extreme promises: whoever leaves it all behind, will receive.

This young man isn't just wealthy, he's likable.  He approaches Jesus with humility and honor and respect.  "Good teacher..."  Even though Jesus pushes back on it and reminds him that only God is good, he meets him where he is: following the commandments.  This is where the young man shares his truth: I've done all that.  It's not enough.

When have you felt that you weren't enough?  Weren't doing enough?  Couldn't do enough?  How have you handled it?  Perhaps you worked harder trying to squeeze more into an already full day.  Then you gave up.  Quit trying.  Quit worshiping.  Quit.  It was too much.  Jesus asked too much.

Jesus looks at the young and loves him.  Can you see his face relax and his eyes soften?  He sees something in this young man and so do we.  That's how we want Jesus to look at us: with love. We depend on him to understand how scared and alone we am.  That we need those possessions in order to feel safe and secure and not so all alone.

Undaunted, Jesus continues.  He makes the extreme demand:

Go.  Sell what you own.  Give it to the poor.  Come.  Follow me.

Sell what you own and give it away.  Aren't we being responsible with our wealth when we carry life insurance, automobile insurance and home insurance?  Shouldn't we tuck money away in nest eggs like IRA's and 401k's?

The young man had many  possessions.  He was holding on to them tightly.  I wonder if Jesus was telling him to sell it because it wasn't that the young man owned them, but that his wealth possessed him?

My husband bought me a beautiful diamond ring for our 25th Anniversary.  I loved that ring.  I loved the look of it, the way it made my hands look, the way the diamonds glittered in the light.  One morning, I sat in worship and listened to the music being played while the ushers collected the offering.  I thought about the meaning of this part of worship.  It's not a time for paying "dues."  It's giving back to God a part of all that God has given us.  It's responding to God's great love for us by providing the church the means to pass this grace along.

My eyes fell on my beautiful ring.  I love it too much, I thought.  This ring is owning me.  I'm not willing to sell it and give it to the poor.  I didn't like being owned.

What owns you?  If you lost all of your possessions in a tornado, which loss would devastate you the most?  That's your starting point.

You know, we assume that the young man didn't follow Jesus' directions.  But, what if the reason he went away sad was because he recognized everything that owned him?  What if he sold that extra house and donated the extra clothing that filled multiple closets?  What if he gave up the prestigious home in the right part of town?  What if he gave away his wealth to those who had little?  Or used his ability to gain wealth to run a charity that made a real difference in the lives of others?

What if he was one of the people who stood at Calvary and watched him die?

I remind you again this week: we are saved by grace through faith.  There's nothing we can do to "win" God's favor.

In response to that kind of unfailing, unending, passionate love, Jesus reminds us that we can't worship God and material items, as well.  A full and rich life demands more:

--it demands a commitment to being in relationship with God.  We can't live a full life without that connection to our creator.

--it demands that we see the people all around us. All the people; not just those we want to see.  Really see those you don't want to see.

--and when we see the people, to love them (I didn't say you had to like them.)  To enter into a relationship that empathizes with the hurting side of their lives.

--to take risks.  To step outside yourself and follow Jesus' way.  Especially when it scares the devil out of you.

Letting go isn't easy.  Especially when we take in our prized possessions.  We don't need our wealth to lean on, we need God for that.  Our possessions hold only so much promise.  Christ offers us a promise that is rich and satisfying and lasts for eternity.

What do you own?  Over what are we masters?  What's left is what owns us.

That's where we begin.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




October 7, 2018, 12:00 AM

Jesus’ Way of Suffering Love: The Unsettling Reign of God


by Sandy Bach

Mark 10:17-31

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,[a] and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.  (Mark 10:2-16 NRSV)

"I've lost a wife through divorce and a wife through death.  I can easily say that losing my wife through death was a lot easier."

These words were spoken by a friend of mine several months after his wife of more than 25 years had passed away.  I was surprised when I first heard them.  Doesn't divorce give at least the illusion of maybe getting back together again?  Death is so final.

In the years since I've considered his statement many times and I've gained a bit of understanding.  I've never been divorced and I'm not widowed.  I don't know the emotions involved in either.  However, I know the difficulties that marriage entails and I understand how they can lead to divorce.

Jesus' words in this text are difficult to hear.  Divorce is all too common today and I wonder if there were similar issues in first century Rome and Palestine.  These words have been used to keep marriages together for good and for bad.  People have told me that it was passages such as this one that made them stay in the relationship and make it strong again.  I've also read about ministers who sadly told a battered wife to return to her husband or be damned to hell.

Is Jesus saying you can't divorce?  And if you do, you can't remarry or you're committing adultery?  Is he laying down a law of his own?  Is eternal punishment promised?

Notice that the Pharisees arrive with a question, not because they're interested in his ideas for lowering the divorce rate, but to test him.  Whatever he says will be used against him.  They know it.  Jesus knows it.  He doesn't give them an immediate answer, he asks them a question.  They respond by quoting the law of Moses that permits a man to divorce his wife.  She can't divorce him, but he can let her go for anything from unfaithfulness to last night's dinner being burned.

Jesus attacks the law.  That law was necessary because you're human and stiff-necked.  He then goes backs to the beginning -- Genesis.  This is what God intended: that when two people marry, they become one and they remain together, both physically and spiritually.  God never intended divorce.

In the kingdom of God, mutual respect and concern rule the day.  In everything, including marriage.  When divorce happens, not only a physical separation occurs, but a spiritual one.  To be married is to be open and vulnerable to your mate and to be respectful and caring of your mate's openness and vulnerability.  When that fabric is torn, a deep wound is created; sometimes it's never mended.

Sadly, we live in a broken world.  We've spent the past few weeks looking at our brokenness in this broken world.  We've talked about being willing to take up the cross for Christ's sake in the world; that to be the greatest in the kingdom is to be the least and slave of all; that we are tempted often and sometimes we tempt others to stumble along with us.  These are difficult to hear and even more difficult to do.

We are broken people, saved by grace through faith, living in a broken world.  Jesus tells us how to live and sets the bar high.  Jesus knows we won't reach it.  Not every time.  This text comes on the heals of his previous teachings, so why would they be any different?  In a broken world, we fall short, even fail at times.  In a broken world, divorce is sometimes necessary.

From Genesis through Revelation, we read and learn about God who loves humanity.  God loves us so passionately, that God sent Jesus to live among us.  God loves us so passionately, that sometimes judgement has to take place in order to bring us back to the loving father.  If sometimes we fail to carry the cross, or serve others as a servant or allow others to stumble and fall on our account, we have sinned.  We have let God down.  When we divorce or break the marriage vow in any way, we have sinned and we have let God down.

That's when we become as a child.  That's when we receive the kingdom as a child.  We admit our total dependency on God.  We open ourselves to be receptive to God's voice.  And we respond as a child.

Jesus isn't as interested in what is lawful and as he is in the purposes of God.  God had a purpose in creating marriage.  God has a purpose in everything God created.  Jesus walked this earth to show us that way.  Not to set the law aside, but just the opposite.  To deepen our understanding of it.

In this text, Jesus raises women to be equal with men in marriage and to be equally responsible for the marriage vows.  He makes it clear that marriage isn't something to take lightly and then dissolve if it doesn't meet your expectations.  There's no money back guarantee.  Marriage is holy.  Marriage is a spiritual union as well as a physical one.  But, he doesn't make divorce a cruel and unjust regulation.

Just when we think we have the answers to life, someone comes along and changes the questions.  Maybe that's God's way of saying, "Come to me as a child: dependent on me and receptive to my Word."  When we're at our best, we can serve others, we can deny ourselves, we can keep our marriages strong.  When we're at our worst, life falls apart.

Grace enters then and picks us up.  We become like a child, once again.  With a broken heart and a broken life we turn to God's presence saying, "What was that about dependence and receptivity?  I think I'm ready for that, God."

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




September 30, 2018, 10:48 AM

Jesus’ Way of Suffering Love: God’s Work Be Done


by Sandy Bach

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone[a] casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me,[b] it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell,[c] to the unquenchable fire.[d] 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.[e][f] 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,[g] 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire.[h] 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?[i] Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”  (Mark 9:38-50 NRSV)

This scripture has my name all over it.

I have been hurt by Christians, pushed away, even told that I'm a sinner because women don't belong in the pulpit.  I listen to sentimental piety that makes Jesus into a real nice guy.  I have friends who would rather talk about hell than grace.

I prefer talking to sworn atheists and agnostics.  Though they try to talk me out of loving Christ, they sound more "real" than some Christians I know.

I'm John, interrupting Jesus's teachings on how to be the greatest in the kingdom by being the least and the servant.  I'm bugged by others who have used my Lord's name for their own purpose.  Jesus doesn't see it this way.  "If he's using my name to do great works, he won't be able to cut me down later on."

It' doesn't seem fair.  We're the ones with the truth about Jesus and others need to join our ministry and study under this great leader.

Jesus continues his teaching: "If someone so much as provides a cup of water in my name, understand that they are one of mine.  God will notice."

I suspect it doesn't sound right to John and it sounds wrong to me.  How can people speak their faith and say such awful things?  How can people be so wrapped up in anger and not notice love and grace?

Actually, it's easy.  I do it myself all the time.  "Jesus, that person doesn't believe as I do.  Cast them into the outer darkness."  "There's a person who is using the Bible to bully others.  Stop her now!"

I confess that I'm judgemental.  In my finest moment I listen carefully and find that I may disagree with them, but I understand why they're saying it.  Christianity has a lot of different sects in it and each one expresses their theology differently.  And each of us has our own view of who God is.  And most of them can be supported by scripture.  Sort of.

I don't want to be stumbling block.  Jesus uses strong words on this.  He won't abide people using the Bible to bully or scare or hurt his "children."  He expects us to speak.  He expects us to teach well and learn constantly.  He expects us to be on HIS side.

He respects anyone who gives so much as a cup of water to any of his children.  That cup of water represents many different things.  It can be Queen Esther who risked her life to save her people; the person who attempts to restore the weary to right relationship with God and humanity.  It's anyone who listens to the Holy Spirit and follows through.

God desires wholeness for all creation.  God's desire is that we nurture it. Jesus warns us to do what's necessary to stop any action that would prevent that from occurring.

We live in a world that rejects so easily.  If you don't look like me, don't believe the way I do, there's obviously something wrong with you.  Politics is hard; religion is even harder.

Christianity is going through some tough times.  I believe God is shaking things up and we're struggling with the change.  The discussions are so hard because they touch the very heart of what we believe.  God calls us to stand up for truth and when we do we're excluded.  God calls us to be flexible and when we do: excluded.

It's difficult to be a Christian today.  Our younger generations see us struggle and squabble and they walk away.  Are we any better than the secular world who also struggle and squabble over the issues?

What I read this morning is that Jesus calls us to see that God's work be done.  Provide that cup of water to the included and the excluded.  Understand what  you believe, listen to others.  Whether you agree or not, they're struggling just like you are.  And the angrier they are, the more scared and anxious they are.  They need our prayers, not our arguments.

Jesus reminds us that we're meant to take care of each other.  He speaks in exaggerated terms when he says to cut off hands or feet if they cause you to sin.  That's because he's deadly serious about this.  Treat others like you want to be treated.  All of us belong to the body of Christ.  We're all wrong at times and we're all right at times.  Deal with it by keeping God in the loop.

I understand that my way of interpreting scripture isn't popular.  Some would suggest that I play fast and loose with the truth.  What I read in scripture though is a God who's love is greater than I can fathom.  I believe in a God who judges while loving us passionately.  I follow a Savior who brought a common sense but often difficult approach to getting along with each other.

Most of all, I love God because God has loved me so very much, especially when I wasn't very lovable.  So when I meet the unlovable, I know that I can only do one thing.  Love them back, find ways to agree and let the rest of it go.  Christianity has been around for over 2,000 years.  It's not up to me to save it.  It's up to me to reach out to others and provide that cup of water.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




September 23, 2018, 12:00 AM

Jesus’ Way of Suffering Love: Fitting Jesus Into Our Mold


by Sandy Bach

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”  (Mark 9:30-37 NRSV)

Sometimes it's hard being a disciple of Jesus.  He demands much and we want so badly to measure up.  We want Jesus to smile at us and say, "Well done, good and faithful servant..."

Jesus and the disciples are traveling south, headed to Jerusalem.  Jesus is about as clear as he can be when he says, for at least the second time, "The Son of Man will be handed over, killed and, three days later, rise again."  The disciples don't get it.  Perhaps they don't get it because they can't get passed their own sense of who a Messiah is and what he does.

They believe that the Messiah will ride a war horse into Jerusalem and fight the oppressive Romans and bring Israel back to her former glory.  The Messiah will be a true son of David, who grew the kingdom and made it great.  So, this talk about being handed over and dying just doesn't make sense to them.  If Jesus is the Messiah, then dying isn't part of the plan.  If he dies, so does the dream of greatness.

Speaking of greatness...

They're so wrapped up on their own mission statement of the new Israel that they find themselves in conversation about who will be the greatest.  Old fashioned competition has entered the picture.

They're silent.  Not for the first time.  They're silent because they're afraid to ask Jesus what he means by this dying and rising stuff.  They're afraid to ask, because they aren't ready to hear the answer.  They're silent because they've been caught.  They know better because they've been with Jesus long enough to know that being the greatest isn't one of his tenets.

It was so delicious having that conversation.  I can imagine they discussed their God-given gifts and talents.  Some were smarter, others more street-smart.  The fishermen would have discussed best business practice with an assurance that they had a corner on the market.  They had received power to heal.  What a head rush that would be!  They were teaching as they traveled.  They were beginning to get it.  They felt pretty full of themselves.  The competition to be the greatest was just too tempting.

The scripture says that Jesus sat down.  That's a code word.  In our day, when we have something to say of great importance we stand up.  We stand and make our presence known.  In Jesus' day one sat down when he was ready to teach.  Jesus sat down and the disciples knew that they were going to get another lecture.

"To be great,you have be least."

What?

"To be great, you have be last and servant of all."

Sure.  Ever hear of Caspar Milquetoast?

This is a difficult stance to take.  It's human nature to regard greatness.  It's human nature to compete for the best slot or to be the best.  As I write this, my husband is watching a football game (or two or three) on the television.  It's a game whose players strive to be best so that their team will be the best.  College athletes look to the greatest as the one who receives the annual Heisman Trophy.  NFL teams compete to be the greatest by winning the Super Bowl.

At its best, competition is important.  We improve as human beings.  Sports' fans advocate for public schools because sports "builds character."  At its worst, players believe their own press and cross ethical lines that hurt, even damage, other people.

Greatness is determined not by weakness, but by strength; not by sacrifice, but by taking; not by humility, but by stepping up; not by being truthful, but by skirting around it.

First the disciples are afraid to ask questions.  Now they're stunned into silence.  They'll see an example of servant leadership during their week in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration.  Until then, they'll continue to listen and try to learn.  They'll continue to be silent when the question at the forefront of their collective minds has the potential for an unwanted answer.

To be first we have to be last and servant of all.

This is Jesus' way and one we're called to follow.  So, perhaps we can see what this looks like by watching the master.  Jesus was no push-over.  He called out those who used insincere remarks.  He wasn't always nice; in fact he had moments of being quite cranky.  He regularly stood up to the Jewish leadership, naming their egregious behavior in specific terms.  He even emptied the temple one day when he'd had enough.

Caspar Milquetoast: take notes.

In fact, being servant of all takes courage and stamina.  It takes courage to stand up to those who would sideline people based on their looks or their social status.  It takes stamina to stick it out with a person in poverty who can't hold down a job no matter how hard they try.  It takes wisdom to recognize the phonies and the users among us.

Who do you know who shares these characteristics?  She is probably someone who knows who she is.  His strength outweighs his weakness because he knows his true value.  These describe authentic people who don't need to seek greatness in order to be great.  They do what they feel is important and if that means taking a step back from the spotlight, so be it.

As Jesus explained this to the disciples that day, he needed an example.  His eye fell on the children.  First century children held no value, because they produced nothing.  Their only worth was what they could produce when they came of age.  They were nobodies who knew about being silent and unseen.

This is who Jesus used as his example.  "Welcome one of these and you welcome me.  In fact, welcome me and you welcome the Father."

This would have been a stunning moment for the disciples.  Welcome a child?!  Who would be a better example today?  One of the panhandlers with their signs looking for food and money?  A person with disabilities?  Name someone and see if you can sense the strangeness like the disciples did.

The truth is, we'll be asking who is the greatest until the end of time.  The world's standards will continue to hold us down, at times.  We'll walk past the Gentile women, the leper and other unsavory "sinners."

The truth is, we run into "greatness seekers" in every walk of life.  In my own profession I feel deep sadness when I hear about or meet a minister who can wax eloquently about "his great ministry," or "her church" or allude to his "great preaching."  I tire of the pompous preacher and the questions about church size.  The truth is, I go there myself sometimes, especially in my most judgemental moments.

The good news, though, is that we follow the Son of Man, the Son of God, who was faithful unto death.  He practiced what he preached through solidarity, relationship and encouragement.  He was faithful unto death, the weakest position of all.

And he was the greatest of them all.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




September 15, 2018, 12:00 AM

Jesus’ Way of Suffering Love: Get in Line and Deny Yourself


by Sandy Bach

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”[a] 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,[b] will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words[c] in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”(Mark 8:27-38 NRSV)

They are traveling through the heart and soul of world power. A city dedicated to Caesar by one of the Herod’s. A city who chooses to worship one of the gods of Baal. World power is celebrated, practiced and worshiped in this place.

“Who do people say that I am?” An interesting question from Jesus. What are the rumors and stories going around?

“Well. Some say John the Baptist. Others Elijah. And others simply say one of the prophets.”

Jesus nods his head. Then he asks the big question, “Who do you say that I am?”

Who do you say that I am? Be careful how you answer this question. Because when you finally answer it, you’ll also tell Jesus and the world who you are.

When Peter answers, “You are the Messiah,” we nod in relief. He got it right! Jesus is Messiah; anointed; out of the line of David. But, Peter doesn’t have it quite right. Messiah in first century Palestine meant not only a king out of the line of David. It carried with it the expectation that he would free Israel from oppressors and restore Israel to its former glory and independence.

No wonder Jesus said, “Don’t repeat what you just said.” Don’t repeat it because you have some more learning to do! And Jesus dives right in.

Here’s what you can expect of your Messiah: the Son of Man is going to suffer. He’ll undergo rejection, betrayal, death. And then he’ll be raised on the third day. Hardly, are his words out of his mouth when Peter rebukes him.

That’s not the message to deliver, Jesus! Tell them how we’ll gather an army of soldiers and head for Jerusalem to take over! Tell them how glorious it’ll be and why some will have to die! Tell them—

“Get behind me Satan!”

You’ve got Messiah confused, Peter! Messiah is of God. Messiah isn’t of this world of power and money and military might. Messiah can’t be tamed. Messiah can’t be turned into our image. Messiah isn’t someone who makes us winners.

Peter, you don’t understand. If you’re going to follow me, you’re going to have to take up the cross. While Peter shrinks in horror, he thinks of those he’s watched who have had the cross beam strapped to their shoulders while they walked to their death. He remembers the wailing of pain as they were hung high.

Peter doesn’t want to go there. And neither do you or I. Jesus calls us not to martyr ourselves, but to be willing to go that far. Jesus acknowledges that life is hard; that we’ll be faced with suffering because we live in a broken world. But, that’s not our cross.

Taking up our cross means that we’re willing to suffer the consequences of following Jesus faithfully. It means that Jesus comes first; his priorities are our priorities. It means that our time and energy and gifts and talents are used in the service of Christ.

Think hard about this Peter. Think real hard. Because where I’m headed is to ride a donkey, not a war horse, into Jerusalem. Where I’m headed is to a cross, not a throne.

It’s worth it, though, Peter. It’s so worth it. Look around you. Do you really think Casesar is a happy, peace-filled man? No, he’s afraid of losing power and he’s greedy for more. The powerful elite are hanging onto power by their fingernails. They are in it for themselves. There’s no joy in that.

We’re in this for God. You’re servants of those who need Jesus the most. You’ll give it all you have and receive so much more in return. No, it isn’t a ride in the park. But, there’s more joy in serving Messiah than in anything else you can choose to do.

So, think hard, Peter. Who do you say that I am? A warrior of prosperity or a fulfiller life and success or any number of worldly things will only bring temporary satisfaction?

Eternal life in the now is so much more than this.

Get behind me Satan. Either get out of my sight or get in line and follow me. What God has to offer is life. Honest life; authentic life.

What God has to offer is so great that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ.

Absolutely. Nothing.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




August 19, 2018, 10:10 AM

Redeeming Time


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  by Sandy Bach

 

15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Ephesians 5:15-20 NRSV)

Summer isn't over.  That will occur on September 22 this year with the autumnal equinox.  Meteorologists call the end of summer on August 31st.  Frankly, summer is over when school begins.  It's the beginning of a new year, so to speak.  Our kids return to school and new classrooms and new teachers.  And the rest of us tend to follow suit.  Vacation season comes to an end and we get serious about fall activities.

How timely that we read this passage today.  The author of Ephesians tells us to make the most of time; the days are evil; be wise; don't get drunk; worship and sing; give thanks for everything.  That's a tall order!  Perhaps it's also strange.  As we begin a fresh new year, perhaps this passage is timely.

How do we redeem time?  The word, redeem, has so many meanings and we Christians throw it around as if we understand it's meaning.  Jesus went to the cross to "redeem" us from sin.  He traded his life for yours and mine.  He freed us up to make better lives for ourselves and others.

Redeeming time, in this sense, is about what we do with the time we're given.  When we awaken each day, we have the opportunity to open ourselves up to our very existence.  We can receive this new day that God has made because we know that God is in it.  What might that look like?

We begin by understanding that not everyone awakens to a beautiful world.  Some choose not to see the beauty.  Sadly, some are surrounded by really bad stuff.  All of us are capable are seeing the fresh possibilities in a new day.

We redeem time when we recognize that we have choices.  As my friend and colleague is fond of saying, "Life has choices.  Choices have consequences.  Make good choices."  We redeem time when we rescue the time we have from loss or inappropriate practices.  Notice that the author says, "Don't get drunk with wine..." (vs 18)  Certainly alcohol abuse is a waste of time and energy.  But, don't we get drunk on other things?

The risks exist: to get drunk worrying about the future; to get drunk on overspending money; to get drunk on anger.  We get drunk when that which gets in the way of our relationship with God takes over our lives.  We lose time.  We lose ourselves.  We're unable to worship God.  We're unable to be thankful.

We get drunk when we choose to lose ourselves in anything that kills our spirit and our soul.  Over drinking and abusing drugs come to mind.  Overeating is the drug of choice for others.  Getting drunk relieves anxiety and we can avoid both God and the problem.  Until we sober up and all sorts of other emotions step in to drive us back to our addiction.

Our author suggests being thankful.  In everything.

Have you ever noticed that it's easier to be thankful when things are going wrong?  First we see all the bad stuff.  Then if it gets bad enough, we begin to see glimpses of God's presence:  a friend saying the right thing at the right time; a good night's rest after many a restless night; a sense of God's peace just when you need it most.  Soon you're noticing that the rain let up at just the right moment.  That the evening news reported somebody performing an act of kindness.  You see life differently and, though life is not all good, it's also not all bad.

Give thanks for the right timing of events; for green lights; for smiles and sunshine.  Dare to turn to the evilness of our days.  Give thanks that, though evil exists, life isn't evil.  God is the one who gives and sustains life and intends good for God's creation.

That's when time takes on a new aspect.  There is an example used in training classes that expresses this best.  The facilitator jams rocks of all sizes and shapes into a jar and then tries to pour sand around it.  Each rock is an item on our to-do list.  Predictably, it all doesn't fit.  Then the facilitator empties the jar and begins again.  This time she identifies priorities and puts the largest rocks in first.  Next come the secondary priorities and she puts the smaller stones into the jar and watches them settle around the largest rocks.  Finally, she adds sand and it slips over the rocks and stones into the tiny crevices.  These are the less important things, but still things that need to be completed.  The jar is filled and all the items on the to-do list fit in the jar perfectly.

The point is this: what's most important in your life?  Do it first?  I tried meditating in the evening and guess what?  I never got to it.  I had to move it to first thing in the morning.  I discovered that it got my day off to a good start.  Some of my biggest rocks include physical exercise, caring for my disabled husband and for the congregation I serve.  Once I identified those, everything else fell into place.

Redeeming time requires wisdom.  It's part time management, part boundary setting.  It's all prayerful and prayer-filled.

We redeem time when we use it wisely.  We redeem time when we use it to change the world.  We redeem time when we seek the leading of the Holy Spirit and grab it while it while we can

All glory ad honor be to God.

Amen.


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