February 13, 2020- Come and Dine! Jesus’ Table is Open- Isaiah 55:1-9

food

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.

Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:1-9 (ESV)

Most of us in today’s society have experienced the “rat wheel” feeling- that we are constantly working, constantly busy, constantly maxed out in our time, energy and resources just to survive and keep bills paid and food on the table.

Some of us, after we work to meet our basic needs, fall prey to the ever-constant drive to over work and over spend, only to find that all that we have been working for is never enough and never satisfies.

Hard work and diligence are not inherently bad things. Our vocations are gifts given to us by God in which we are given the means to provide for ourselves and serve our neighbors.  There is much satisfaction and joy to be had in diligent work, within the proper context.

The problem with the illusion of self-reliance is that we assume to take on a burden we were never meant to bear, and it is a burden that we are not able to carry.  Our culture glorifies the “self-made” man, but the reality is that there is no such thing.  We are all God-made people, and in the correct context and perspective, we see that all our provision- including the ability to earn our living- comes from God.

This is why God calls us to His feast- the feast of the Word, the feast we celebrate of the Body and Blood of Christ when we share the meal at the Communion table.

Jesus taught: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:51 (ESV)

We are called to run to Jesus- not because He is a bread king, but because He is the Resurrection and the Life. As Martha was grieving the death of her brother, Lazarus: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” John 11:25-26 (ESV)

In the world’s economy- in this earthly kingdom- we have to earn our way to survive.  In the heavenly kingdom it is God’s banquet, God’s gift that we neither can earn nor deserve.

Jesus says to us, “Come to Me.” The Lord is near, and has compassion for all who come to Him no matter how much we have sinned and fallen short of His laws.

Jesus’ table is open to all- no matter how heroic or tragic our backstories may be, whether we have accomplished much,  or accomplished nothing.

Seek the Lord, return to the Lord! Not just a one time return, but a daily return. We don’t seek the Lord because as some would say, “hell is hot,” but we seek Him because in Jesus there is peace, there is rest, there is salvation and life forever with him.  Our life forever with Him begins in the waters of baptism. It is sustained in our confession of and the repentance of our sins. Our forever life with Jesus is fed and nourished with the most divine food and drink, a foretaste of the feast to come, at the table of the altar.  His banquet of salvation and life is freely given, a feast lavishly laid out for any who will come and dine.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 

 

 

 

 

January 23, 2019- Sacrifice, Vocation, All Parts of One Body- Romans 12:1-8

body of christ

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.  For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:1-8 (ESV)

It has been said that the problem with living sacrifices is that they are always wriggling themselves off of the altar. We do not live the Christian life perfectly. Thankfully in Christ, because we are baptized, and made children of God by faith, we can start each day knowing that He is renewing our minds and giving us hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26) in exchange for our hearts of stone.  We can trust that he forgives our sins and He gives us the strength to face a new day every day.  God works this transformation in us through the Holy Spirit.

We walk a balancing act between being sinner and saint. As Paul said in Romans 8, we do the things we know we shouldn’t do, and we don’t do the things we should do.  Even so, God has created each of us as an individual with a set of strengths and a set of weaknesses.  Everyone has been given a vocation- a reason for being and a reason for doing- which should complement the vocations of others. A farmer grows grain for the baker to bake bread.  Drivers transport raw materials so that factory workers can fabricate and assemble machines and cars and other things.  Police and firefighters keep order and respond to emergencies.  We have vocations in both the earthly kingdom and God’s kingdom.  Sometimes they intersect, but we are made to embrace and pursue our vocations to the glory of God.

Paul has a complementary view of how we are to work together at being the Body of Christ. Some of us are positively not suited for doing certain things.   Not everyone is in the position to volunteer to go do missions in Africa for a year, or to do plumbing and carpentry work, or to bake cookies.  Some people have the gift of hospitality, or the ability to go abroad do missions work, but others may be more able to give financially, or teach, or encourage.  Everyone has equally valid – though necessarily different and varied- vocations that we have been gifted with to serve God.

We have every reason as God’s people to appreciate and thank God for the gifts we have been given. We are also called to appreciate and thank God for the gifts God has given others, especially the gifts they share that with us we do not possess.  We serve others out of a joyful response to God’s goodness, no matter what our gifts may be.

January 18, 2019 – For Us, Jesus – Romans 8:18-39

jesus light

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:18-39 (ESV)

When we come forward to the Communion table and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we receive it as what Jesus said it is: this IS My Body, given FOR YOU, and this IS My Blood, shed FOR YOU. In, through, under and with the bread and wine, Jesus IS.  He is given FOR US, for the forgiveness and remission of our sins. The Sacrament of Holy Communion is not a symbol or a “memorial meal.”  It is tangible, edible proof that Jesus gave Himself for us. We are part of His body.  We share in the suffering of His Cross as well as we share in the resurrection in the world to come.

Paul does not give us any illusions about suffering for Jesus’ sake. Paul endured stoning, shipwreck, starvation, imprisonment, and ultimately beheading, all for teaching and spreading the Gospel. By God’s grace not only did Paul endure, but God gave us much of the New Testament through him. His faith and his focus stayed squarely on Christ alone no matter what trial or suffering he endured. This was truly a gift of God’s grace, and it is gift that God gives to us as well.  God’s gifts are given at the font, as well as in, with, through and under the bread and wine, and poured out on us every time we read, study or hear His Word.

Most of us 21st century American Christians will not face the persecution that Paul faced. Yet in many parts of the world, – in China, for example, and in the Muslim world- a person can be executed for preaching the truth of the Gospel, or for even possessing a Bible.  It is a blessing for us that we face minimal restrictions in professing our faith, but we should caution against becoming so distracted by all the material things around us that we forget the Giver. We should remember in times of blessing and in hardship that God is in it all and HE will get us through. He will not abandon us.

Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Even when it’s hard for us to see it, He does hold us in the palm of His hand. The Holy Spirit is constantly interceding for us in the places where we cannot find words.  He may not deliver us from pain or trials or suffering, at least not in the ways we would like, but He too had to drink the cup.  He chose to drink the ultimate cup of suffering- FOR US.  FOR US, He became the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.  He has mercy on us, and He will see us through to the place where pain, suffering and death are no more.

 

 

 

May 22, 2018 Synergy in the Body of Christ- 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

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For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,  which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (ESV)

When the members of a body function as they are intended they work in synergy:

synergy: a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct business participants or elements such as resources or efforts – (as defined by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

It’s very clear even on casual observation that God has created us all with different gifts and placed us in different roles. Not everyone is an eloquent speaker or a talented dancer.  Some of us are gifted with the ability to encourage others and to anticipate others’ needs.  Others of us can sing or write or have a love for mentoring children.  Still others are gifted in carpentry or plumbing or in repairing mechanical things.

There is a reason why the Body of Christ has so much diversity in its members- because no one person can do everything, or wants to do everything! Some are physically stronger than others, while others have different gifts to bring to the table. The idea is that we work together as one to serve God and each other.  It is easier said than done.

Vocation is more than simply what one does for a living. It is operating as part of the greater body of Christ for everyone’s good, while still retaining the unique separate humanity that God created us with.

It’s been said that marriage relationships should be “fifty-fifty,” but that’s almost never how relationships work. There are times when it’s more like twenty-eighty or sixty-forty- or even ninety-ten.  Sometimes one must have compassion and completely carry the other in his or her weakness.  It is also true in any community or relationship that sometimes the stronger members need to carry the weaker- and over time the roles change.  The helpless infant  who is carried to the baptismal font- where he or she is named and claimed by God and welcomed into the faith- becomes the toddler in the nursery. Soon enough that toddler is the teen who helps watch the toddlers.  The teen then becomes a young adult, and then he or she becomes a parent. Then parents become grandparents, and grandparents, become the elderly who are again in need of special care.  Yet we are all brought into one body, named, claimed and loved by God, through our baptism.

Sometimes we find it difficult to accept the role that we are currently occupy- sometimes we hold the role of being the one being able to offer help, and other times we are the one in need. Yet the apostle Paul reminds us that each of us are essential to the greater Body, that the eye is as honored as the hand or the ear or the mouth.  The greater Body needs each specific and individual part.  The weaker among us are to be held especially carefully and honorably as- “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

Our society isn’t very good at valuing the weak or the seemingly insignificant, such as the very young, the physically or mentally ill, the disabled and the elderly. Yet even in their weakness, or precisely because of it, they are precious members of the Body of Christ and need to be treated with special care.

We look to Jesus to help us live and work and love in synergy and right relationship within our families, communities and in the greater Body of Christ. We ask Jesus to forgive us when we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves and when we want to be something that we are not. We pray for Jesus to give us the courage and strength to live out our various vocations together with others, in our family, workplaces and church to the glory of God.

December 23, 2016- Bringing Gifts-Matthew 2:10-11

star-of-bethlehem

“When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:10-11 (NRSV)

There’s a saying that it’s more blessed to give than to receive.  How do we really feel about that statement though?

Sometimes it’s really easy to focus on our own needs and lose sight of what those around us might be going through.  It’s easy to be so focused on one’s financial or material needs that it’s hard to remember that another person could benefit even by a blood donation at the Red Cross, or a by donation of clothing or furniture that we aren’t using anymore.

It’s even easier, when we are suffering and in pain, to wall ourselves off and not be aware of the ways we might be able to alleviate the pain and suffering of others. In so doing, we just become more deeply mired in our pain and more stuck in a bad situation. We often have no idea how much joy we could give- and receive- by reaching out to someone who might also be in pain or suffering.

Yet in giving, and in gratitude, we receive far more than we could think to ask for.

The wise men brought Jesus precious and expensive gifts, and this was a beautiful act. Yet there is no gift they could have brought that would compare to the gift He came to give us.

How can we be a blessing- and receive a blessing- by giving today?  Not necessarily materially or financially, but how can we give a gift of service, or care, or time?