December 10, 2019 Advent 10, Luke 10- The Primacy of Christ

Mary-and-Martha

Read Luke 10.

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Luke 10:1-3 (ESV)

It almost seems as if Jesus is setting up His disciples for failure, warning them in advance that they are being sent as lambs in the midst of wolves.

It’s still true today that God’s people are few and far between at times, and we are often treated badly by the world.  Jesus knew that His message was not always going to be received with joy, especially by those who were strong and powerful in the temporal world.

Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.  And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Luke 10:13-20 (ESV)

How do we treat those who bring us the Good News of Jesus?  Are we listening and are we heeding their directions that point us to Christ?  May we by the grace of God in Christ have ears to hear the message, and to receive God’s messengers and teachers with joy and thankfulness.  Jesus tells us that receiving His teachers and gladly listening to sound teaching is the same as receiving Him.

In that same hour he (Jesus) rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.  All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Luke 10:21-22 (ESV)

Faith is a gift given to us by God.  Like little children all we can do is receive the good gifts that are given to us.  It’s no small coincidence that many people who try to seek God via their own knowledge or by trying to find God with science often fail. Many (otherwise) great minds are far more likely to be atheist or agnostic, and find it very difficult, if not impossible to trust in Christ for their salvation and provision.

Often we see that the people with the most tenacious faith in Jesus are children and those who due to a mental infirmity or other disabilities see their complete and total dependence on Jesus more clearly.  Jesus is the defender and champion of the weak. As the apostle Paul taught us, His strength is found in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him (Jesus) to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Luke 10:25-28 (ESV).

Surely the young lawyer knew the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-6. But there is a disconnect between knowing the Shema and being able to live it out.  Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan precisely to point out that none of us are justified by the tradition we are born into. What we know in our heads doesn’t do us much good if we don’t believe it, internalize it and live accordingly. Apart from the grace of God we are completely unable to live in a way that is pleasing to Him.  Samaritans were reviled and considered as heretics and worse, but the Samaritan in the parable, in spite of his religious unorthodoxy, was living out the Shema in the way he cared for the stranger along the road.

Jesus writes the Law on our hearts, but we cannot live it out aside from His grace.  Even then we still deal with that paradox of being sinners and saints at the same time.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,  but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42 (ESV)

Jesus does want us to love and serve our neighbor.  But that love and service is a result, a fruit that is brought forth from loving and seeking God.  It’s easy to be busy, and we should be productive and helpful to our neighbors… but… when “busy” becomes our god we simply become tired, burned out and not of much use to anyone, ourselves included.  In order for us to live out the vocations we are given, we desperately need to take the time to sit at Jesus’ feet.  We need to read the Bible.  We need to listen to and take in sound teaching.  How can we have strength for the journey if we fail to take the time to let God feed us?

During this time of year we can get bogged down into the “holiday have-tos.” There are a whole lot of “shoulds” out there that “should” get done.  Most of those “shoulds” are not nearly as important as we want to make them out to be.

Mary understood the most important thing: to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn from Him.

In today’s chapter of Luke the emphasis is on Jesus first, the primacy of Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.  By the grace of God, in this Advent season, may we step back and take the time to sit at His feet, to listen to Him, and to praise and adore Him.

 

 

 

 

God With Us, (Luke 2:8-20, John 3:16-17) Jesus, Herod and the Holy Innocents (Matthew 2:13-18)

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And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:8-20 (ESV)

We all know and love the Christmas story. We marvel at the miracle of the Incarnation and can even imagine hearing the angels sing on that blessed night. The Light of God came down to earth. The birth of Jesus is good news indeed. It is wonderful for us to gather around in the light and the wonder of Jesus’ birth. We should celebrate and be glad that God has come to live and be with us. We are reminded of the timeless, sweet, saving Good News from the Gospel of John:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”- John 3:16-17 (ESV)

If not for the miracle of Jesus’ birth, we would have no Savior. There would be no one qualified to be the one Sacrifice to save us from sin, death and hell. We would be left without hope and forever under the death curse of Adam and Eve.

There is another side to the liturgical season of Christmas that is not as popular with the culture around us, yet it is an integral part of the story.

Jesus entered into our world of suffering. The King of Glory, Jesus, entered into a world in which glory would be subdued, and sacrificed. He exchanged His sovereign crown for a crown of thorns. He became the cursed one to die on a tree, the One who bore our griefs, who carried our sorrows and was smitten by God and afflicted in our place. (Isaiah 53:1-5)  He took the punishment we earn and deserve.

In this world of not-yet, we have been baptized not only into the eternal life of Jesus, but also into a life of sacrifice and suffering in the here and now. Jesus Himself said that if we are in love with our lives here in this world we will lose our lives, but if we lose our life for Him we will gain it. (Matthew 16:25)   We are not promised an easy life here and now.  This is a temporary place.

In the liturgical season of Christmas- along with the joyful, blessed Incarnation- we also remember those who gave their lives, willingly or even unknowingly, for the sake of Christ.

Now when they (the wise men of the East) had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” – Matthew 2:13-18 (ESV)

The Slaughter of the Innocents is a particularly sad commemoration. Herod was so desperate to maintain his own earthly might- confusing the King of Kings for an earthly ruler- that he killed hundreds of baby boys so as to do away with any potential threats to his power.  God made a way to keep Jesus safe, just as He had provided for Moses to be pulled from the river Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter.  Herod had no way of knowing that he would die in a few short years himself.  So much for earthly power.

Yet in Bethlehem, the city of Jesus’ birth, we can see the anguish of so many mothers over the loss of their baby boys, the senseless killing, and the unspeakable grief. We cannot help to acknowledge in this not-yet world that even the most blessed and joyful of events are tainted with our suffering and grief.

It is sobering that even in great joy, we are living the paradox. In this bittersweet world full of sin, we are soaked in death and despair and disappointment.  Yet in Christ we are baptized- soaked in His LIFE- so that no matter what weeping and sorrow and loss we face in this life can win out.  We know the end of the story.  Jesus wins, and so do we who trust in Him.

 

 

July 25, 2018-The Curse of the Law and the Faith of Abraham – Galatians 3:1-14,1 John 1:8-10

(The apostle Paul writes:) O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:1-14 (ESV)

Christ alone. Faith alone. Scripture alone. These statements are the very heart of Lutheran theology. We can’t save ourselves by behaving ourselves (which is a very good thing) or by earning brownie points.

This being said, all of creation is under the curse of the Law. Apart from Jesus taking the punishment for us who were born under the curse, we might as well simply eat, drink and be merry, because all of this world’s creation is destined for death.

If we look at the 10 Commandments in light of the teaching of Luther’s Small Catechism, we can see just how impossible law-keeping is. Even if we look only at Jesus’ two Big Commandments: Love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, we fall woefully short.

We may not worship golden calves, but do we honor the sovereignty of God by putting Him first at all times? Do we consistently love our neighbors as ourselves? Even if we really try?

The bad news is that as good and right as God’s Law is, we can’t follow it perfectly, and to fail at following any part of the Law perfectly means we have broken all of the Law. (James 2:8-13)

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10 (ESV)

Law can’t save us. It can only point us to trust the One Who already did.

Jesus broke the curse. In baptism we are made clean and brought into the family of God. In Holy Communion we are given the healing Body and Blood of Jesus, for the forgiveness of our sins.  We don’t earn forgiveness or salvation.

Jesus became the “cursed one,” Who hung on a tree and took the penalty of sinful humanity.

There is no other way to life. “It is Christ or nothing,” as C.S. Lewis so aptly described the Christian faith. The faith of Abraham was the simple act of trusting God-  and knowing God makes a way. That gift of faith extends to us as well.

This is the good news. Jesus has done it all.

A Scion of David, God of the Impossible-Ezekiel 17:22-24, Romans 8:20-21

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Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” Ezekiel 17:22-24 (ESV)

Old Testament prophets usually had the unenviable job of being the bearers of bad news. Often they found their ways into various tortures and martyrdoms because of the messages God charged them to bear. Ezekiel had plenty of bad news for the people of Israel, but he also had good news.

There is a theme throughout Scripture- which points us to Jesus, the Lord of All, the Suffering Servant, yet always the King of Kings- the theme that God always preserves His people. (Isaiah 11) God makes a way when the way seems impossible, and he usually uses humble and unlikely people and things to make His will come to pass.

God isn’t impressed by the strength of men. Money, power, weapons, etc. can’t buy anyone entrance into the kingdom of heaven.  The strongest empires eventually fall.  The most powerful and wealthy men eventually grow old and die and their lineages die out.  Entropy – the eventual decay and return of created things to their base elements- has been written into the order of the natural world since the Fall.  This world is in the process of passing away. God must re-make the world free of corruption, and that new re-made earth is still to come.

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. Romans 8:20-21 (ESV)

God raised up Jesus, who in His earthly bloodline, is a scion of a long dead king (David), even though Jesus is the one who is and was the King of Kings for all eternity. The noble cedar that Ezekiel speaks of is a reference to both the line of David and to the original Temple.

The idea that Jesus was the father of David (who was Jesus’ forefather) may seem a little strange from a metaphysical perspective- how can it be that a son is his father’s father? How can it be, as Mary asked, that a virgin would conceive and bear a child, much less the very Son of God?  As we learn in Luke 1:26-38, “nothing (is, was, or) will be impossible with God.”

The noble cedar, this scion of David, from this branch is Jesus. Jesus who came to be salvation and shelter for “every bird of a feather” came to us through from a most unlikely source. Jesus’ people come from every nation and people group and from all demographic backgrounds.  Jesus’ people come with every sort of history and baggage attached to them. God especially calls the unlikely, the humble, the downtrodden, and the weak.  He is known for making something out of nothing- for raising the dead, to breathing life into dry bones.

Do we trust in God, even in the face of the physically and logically impossible? We aren’t called to check our brains at the door, but we are challenged to trust the Author of the universe. We aren’t promised that we will get the answers we want or that our lives will be made easy. In our baptism and at the table of the Lord’s Supper we are named and claimed as God’s own.  We are brought into His body and made new creations even as we sometimes slog through life in this broken world and we are currently living the difficult paradox of now and not yet.

We are fragile, flawed and captive to sin, but at the same time we are made God’s beloved because Jesus humbled Himself, allowing Himself to be tortured and killed (the punishment we deserve see- Isaiah 53:5) and became the sacrifice to cover our sins. Even when it seems impossible, God speaks and it happens.  He has spoken, and it will be.  In Jesus, God comes to us in a most unlikely way.  God is with us, has been with us, and will be with us.

December 5, 2017 – Keep Awake! – Mark 13:24-37

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(Jesus said:) “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.  Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.  And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Mark 13:24-37 (NRSV)

Advent is a time of waiting and watching and anticipation. The Christmas story is so tender and sweet, with Joseph and Mary on a donkey, making their way to Bethlehem for Jesus to be born. We all love to sing carols like “Silent Night” that picture the baby Jesus in a manger. But verses such as this passage from Mark 13 and others like it (such as Matthew 24) when Jesus spoke of His return used to turn my blood to ice.  Jesus isn’t portrayed as a sweet baby or even as a nice guy in this passage.  He is coming back with an attitude.

Yes we should savor Advent and take the time to get away from the holiday hoo-hah to reflect on what God With Us really means. We should rejoice with Elizabeth and delight in Mary’s song of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).  We should look at the manger with wonder and awe.  We do know that Jesus will return at some point in human history, and it will be a dramatic return. The thought of His return can seem rather frightening, especially when taken in the context of popular movies and books that are loosely based on apocalyptic passages of the Bible.  However, we need to take apocalyptic passages as part of the whole counsel of Scripture and not turn them into a bang them up action movie.  There is a great deal of exaggeration and metaphor in apocalyptic literature which is meant to drive the message home.

What if Jesus returns in the midst of the chaos? What if He comes back right into the middle of destruction, death and human suffering?  Where will we be in that drama when He arrives? Are we going to be on the “good guy” side? Will He catch us “being good?”

Rather than looking at Jesus’ return as some kind blazing inferno action flick, why not see and anticipate Him as He really is: a deliverer, the one who will end suffering, death, destruction, and agony? He is the One we cry out to when we are suffering, when we are in despair, when there is no hope left.  We reach out to Him from the chaos and uncertainty that characterize our lives.

We can look forward and watch and wait and anticipate that day, knowing that He will find His people who He has named and claimed waiting for Him and already bringing about His kingdom here on earth.

It has been said that when Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he knew today were the end of days, he said he would plant a tree.

God asks us to do the planting and the tending. The harvest is up to Him.  Not every good thing we do will bear fruit that we will see, but it is all known to God.  We wait and watch and hope and work and pray, not in fear, but with excitement and joy.  Be awake.  We don’t want to miss this!

 

 

 

 

August 18, 2017 Blessings and Peace on All Nations Psalm 67, Numbers 6:24-26

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May God be gracious to us and bless us, and make his face to shine upon us that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us.  May God continue to bless us; let all the ends of the earth revere him. – Psalm 67 (NRSV)

Bad news seems to travel a lot further and wider than good news does. Human beings seem to be drawn to news of humiliation and scandal, betrayal and death much more so than to news of peace, reconciliation and God’s provision.  Some of that hankering for bad news may be self-preservation, as in wanting to steer clear of calamity ourselves. It is good to know where the weather is bad so we don’t travel there, and it is good to know where there are construction or traffic delays so we can plan alternate routes. We want to know where things are going wrong, presumably so we can avoid them.

But certain kinds of bad news- especially when only part of the story is reported, or the story is told from a biased viewpoint- serve only to increase tensions and make relationships with others more difficult. What are our motives for following that kind of reporting?  Does bad news travel faster because bad news sells?  Who profits by fanning the flames of conflict?

We have all heard the expression, “One bad apple ruins the whole barrel.” When we simply listen to the doom and gloom that the media feeds on, we start to paint others with a broad brush. We profile others, and we stereotype. We can be tempted to implement a logical fallacy that states, “If so and so, who was of ______demographic, commits crimes or is otherwise of questionable character, then everyone else of his or her demographic does the same.” In other words, it is neat and tidy and easy to think that people who aren’t like us are somehow evil or inferior, just because some people who are not like us have made tragic choices.  It’s not that simple, and it’s also not true.   Sin and unwise choices are inherent to all of humanity. Sin is no more or less prevalent in any particular ethnicity or nationality or culture.  The difference for Jesus followers is in how God calls us to treat others.

The Good News in Scripture that comes from God- and the Good News is not confined to just the Gospels- is just the opposite of doom and gloom of the media and its obsession with Bad News. In God’s economy one good apple cleans up the rest of the barrel- God’s blessings, poured out over humanity, bring salvation and unity instead of division and rancor.

As Jesus followers we are called to be the good apples, the bringers of blessings. The first verse of Psalm 67 closely echoes Numbers 6:24-26: (the Aaronic blessing)

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

May we be those bringers of blessings and peace.

August 4, 2017 The Shema, Go Load Up on the Good News- Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Psalm 145:14-21

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Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NRSV)

The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing. The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever. Psalm 145:14-21 (NRSV)

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is known to Jewish scholars as the Shema Yisrael (meaning- Hear, O, Israel) which is the primary foundational teaching on our relationship with God.

God is God. Love God with all you have.  Learn about Him and write that knowledge on your mind and your heart.  Share that knowledge with everyone around you.  Sounds like the best advice ever. The question is, are we following that directive?

Part of the purpose of daily (or even more often) prayer and Bible study is for us to write the knowledge of God into our heads and hearts, to save it back for those times when we are really going to need it. When we are in crisis and can’t find the words to pray, the Holy Spirit does intervene for us, but those words of truth and comfort from Scripture that we have committed to memory provide us a foundation on which we can stand when the world throws its worst at us.  We pre-wire ourselves to respond to the Holy Spirit when we load up on the knowledge of Scripture.  We can remember God’s truth- and His promises to us- when the world comes crashing down.

We can see why the Shema is so important to Jews and to Christians as well. How can we trust in God’s provision if we don’t soak it up, and pass it around?

The good news is not only to be found in the Gospels. The Bible is saturated with good news of God’s love for us from the beginning and all the way throughout. The Psalms are an especially rich source of comfort and peace and a place to go when we can’t find the words to pray.  There is hope when we are at the end of our strength.  God gives us provision when our lives are empty.  God is as near as our prayers.