February 13, 2018 – Mardi Gras- Fat Tuesday- Shrove Tuesday- Eat, Drink and Be Merry? Ecclesiastes 3, 6:2, 8:15, Hebrews 12:1-2

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God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil. Ecclesiastes 6:2 (NIV)

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun. Ecclesiastes 8:15 (NIV)

Today is a sort of unusual holiday. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which most people are aware of. Most people have also heard of Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday.  It sounds a little better in French!  Mardi Gras traditions can include parties, drinking, debauchery, and basically “getting your sin on” before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

More conservative Mardi Gras observers use the occasion to get rid of all the rich food and sweet treats that people tend to give up during Lent. There’s a reason for today being referred to as Fat Tuesday. It may be some people’s last day to eat chocolate for awhile.

It’s not that possessions, food or enjoying what life has to offer are bad things. We shouldn’t go through life as drab, dull no-fun Nellies. God’s gifts can be unappreciated or misused, but inherently and of themselves, the “finer things in life” are good gifts. God gives us those things for us to enjoy and to share them.

We should celebrate when it is time to celebrate. We should not be afraid or ashamed of eating, drinking or being glad in the proper time and context.  However, Solomon (the Teacher of Ecclesiastes) warns us against a lack of balance. Over or under doing it just isn’t a good thing. Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon shares his wisdom that there is a time and a place for “every purpose under heaven.” (See Ecclesiastes 3.)

As we enter the season of Lent it is good to be thankful for God’s good gifts, and to enjoy them. It is also a good time for us to examine how we can better serve God with the gifts we have been given.

For Jesus followers, rather than overindulging in the secular bacchanalias that can accompany Mardi Gras, (and the accompanying hangovers and heartburn!) today it might be better to consider observing Shrove Tuesday.  To be “shriven” is an old way of saying to get rid of those things that fail to glorify God, and to be forgiven and to start fresh.  It’s a good day to confess and forsake our sins and accept God’s forgiveness.

The writer of Hebrews encouraged us to: …throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

This Shrove Tuesday, may the Holy Spirit show us the things that hinder us so that we can throw them off, and may we fix our eyes on Jesus today and every day.

February 12, 2018-Visit the House of Mourning- Ecclesiastes 7:2-4, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Matthew 22:36-40

house of mourning

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure. It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person than to listen to the song of fools. -Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 (NIV)

On Ash Wednesday most of the liturgical Christian traditions begin the season of Lent. Traditionally Ash Wednesday is a day in which we remember that we come from dust and are returned to dust.  This life is a limited time offer.  What are we doing with it?  Are our lives being lived in response to the grace and glory of God?

The only caveat to going to a house of mourning- or being in that place of reflecting on our own mortality- is that while it is good and sometimes needful to visit, don’t stay there. Reflection upon the end of this life is meant to bring us to appreciate and live fully the life that we have. The season of Lent is just that- a season- in which we focus upon what is truly essential. Hopefully along the way we discover what is not essential, and that which would be better for us to give up. More importantly, hopefully, along the way we also discover that part of following Jesus is taking up our own crosses.

In our times of loss and sadness we learn what is really important and what is really lasting. Our social status doesn’t mean anything.  Neither do our possessions or our accomplishments have any lasting value, save the ones we give in the service of God. No one regrets not having spent enough time at the office on his or her death bed.

In our times of loss and sorrow we should cling first of all to Jesus. He is always there for us even in our most profound loss, our deepest sorrow and our most cutting and agonizing pain.

Sorrow and pain do not last forever, but the love and care of God is constant. His understanding transcends the confines of this world as well as our ability to express it.

We learn much about priorities when we go to a funeral or a visitation to honor the dead. We learn about who and what the deceased cared about.  We learn about the family dynamics of the deceased- sometimes for good, and sometimes for ill.  Most of all we learn that life is short and fleeting, and as Solomon, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes points out, “chasing after wind.”

During the season of Lent we will spend much time on the theme of spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are not punishments, but good exercises to take up. There are many practices that can be considered spiritual disciplines, but in our Lenten studies we will concentrate on seven of them: worship, prayer, fasting, meditation, study, service and surrender.  These disciplines do overlap at times, and that is OK. Some things we do to grow closer to the heart of God may combine worship and service, or prayer and fasting.  That is perfectly fine.  Spiritual disciplines are simply things we do to connect with God, to invite Him to transform our hearts and minds, and to live according to His purpose.

As God’s people are commanded in the Shema from the Old Testament:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.   Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NIV)

Jesus expanded on this theme:

 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

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.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)

Spiritual disciplines- worship, prayer, fasting, meditation, study, service and surrender– are all ways to love God and our neighbor with our minds, hearts, souls and strength.   Some of the disciplines are easier to practice than others depending on our strengths and weaknesses, but all of them serve to bring us closer to the heart of God.  As we journey through the season of Lent, and from time to time visit the house of mourning, we can also explore the spiritual disciplines and discover what they reveal to us about loving God- and the love that God has first and always had for us.

 

 

 

 

March 23, 2017- The Threefold Cord- Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 and Matthew 18:20

two or three

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other;  but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.  Again, if two lie together they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?  And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one.  A threefold cord is not quickly broken.  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NRSV)

(Jesus said): “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 (NRSV)

Sometimes when we study the Bible we make the mistake of thinking that the Old Testament was the “old law”- before Jesus- and that the New Testament is the “new law”- after Jesus. The truth is that both the New and Old Testaments are about Jesus, and that He is revealed throughout Scripture.  The truth about Jesus is that He has always been, is now, and always will be.

Human beings were not created to be alone, or even to operate in a simple “me-n-Jesus” relationship. It is a wonderful thing to know Jesus and an immeasurable blessing to trust in His salvation, but it is important to remember that most of His teachings focused on how His followers should engage the world around them. We were meant to live and operate in community with other human beings, as comforting (or disturbing!) as that truth is.

Martin Luther taught that Christian people – Jesus followers- were to be “little Christs” out in the world, and that our primary vocation and purpose is to be as Christ where ever we are and in whatever we do for a living. Sometimes it’s hard to see how our professions are part of our life in Christ, but God doesn’t compartmentalize our lives the way that we tend to.  There really is no abstract thing called a “spiritual life.” Our spirituality is part of everything that we are and everything we do.  God is with us in and through our entire lives- even the parts that we might want to keep separate to ourselves.

We experience the life of Christ most profoundly and tangibly in our relationships- our friendships, our marriages, our families. It is telling that Jesus says He is most present when two or three are gathered in His name- and He echoes the Teacher of Ecclesiastes (most likely King Solomon) who had pointed out centuries before that “the threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

When we as Jesus followers come together in His name, He is there with us in a powerful and profound way.

Do we know the presence of Christ in our relationships, and if not, why not?

How is Jesus with us in our workdays, and how is He present in the work that we do?