March 30, 2020 -How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place, God’s Place for Us- Psalm 84, Revelation 21:1-4, Matthew 6:25-33

field of trees near body of water

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How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!

My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! – Selah

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.

They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! – Selah

Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed!

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! – Psalm 84 (ESV)

As we know, the Psalms are prayers.  Psalm 84 is particularly lovely set to music (the version by Lily Fields, above is quite beautiful) as it reminds us that we are travelers in this world.  We shouldn’t be seeking out a permanent residence here on earth- because none of us are going to live forever in these corrupted bodies, in this corrupted world. We long for and await the day when Jesus will return and remake both our corrupted bodies and the fallen creation.  As the apostle John wrote to us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit from his exile in Patmos:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4 (ESV)

This doesn’t mean that we should not aim to have a suitable place to live or that we should ignore our bodily needs, just that Jesus told us what our priorities are:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV)

This world is full of uncertainty, despair, illness, violence and hate.  Watching the news and reading the headlines as well as all the doom and gloom on social media is depressing.  Yet we have good news! We are baptized, we are set apart. By faith we trust Jesus.  He provides for us.  He equips us for the good works that He created us to do.  He is the King.  He holds us in His hand.  Today is not all there is.  We can trust God.  He will get us through any storm. He has a permanent, incorruptible home waiting for us.

 

February 17, 2020- Fasting, Joyful Giving, and Freedom- Isaiah 58:6-14, Matthew 6, Mark 12:41:44

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“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.

And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 58:6-14 (ESV)

Spiritual disciplines such as fasting, whether it be from food or from activities or the use of certain things such as TV or technology can be helpful for us to refocus ourselves on Bible study, prayer and service to others. During the season of Lent, which is beginning soon, some people choose to give up a vice such as smoking or alcohol or chocolate or of buying a $5.00 latte every morning. There is nothing wrong with making such sacrifices in the proper context- if one is stopping smoking and donating their smokes money to the food pantry, or taking the time they normally would have used to watch banal reality TV shows to go pay a visit to the shut-ins at the nursing home, those can be fine spiritual disciplines.

However, God knows the real intent behind our actions, and we being sinners who sin, nothing we do is out of a pure motive. Even our most noble actions are tainted with sin- the idolatry of ourselves, and the love of being recognized for what we do.

Jesus had a lot to say about the Pharisees who did their good deeds out in the open for all to see, and gave out of their abundance, again, for all to see. In Matthew 6 Jesus teaches us, But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

The monks in the movie, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” didn’t gain anything by chanting in Latin and banging themselves on the head with boards. Their “holiness” that was supposed to be displayed by self-injury didn’t benefit anyone, and if anything, it only made them look silly.

If we decide to engage in a fast from something for a time, or to engage in something charitable that we normally don’t do, it should be meaningful and helpful for our own spiritual growth and for the benefit of others. And if we toot our own horns for all to see how “good” we are, that ego stroking we get from others is a rather shallow reward. It is better to give in secret and in ways not everyone can see, as Jesus teaches. He sees everything, especially the gifts given to others from our poverty, and the kindnesses shown when no one else is watching.

Jesus is not talking as much about the fruits of our actions (although it is true that where there is faith there will also be works, just as where there is light, there is also heat) as He is the condition of our hearts. Apart from Him there is nothing good in us- the self-serving motive takes over and we are all about ourselves.

And he (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41:44 (ESV)

In Jesus’ eyes the widow who gave all she had, the two coins, was giving in the way that Jesus wants us to give- sacrificially and without counting the cost ahead of time.

This passage from Mark’s gospel has been misused to guilt people into greater financial contributions to the church. Giving to our church is important, but like giving in any other area, our gifts must come as part of a joyful response to the love and care God has given us first.

Jesus has set us free from the penalty our sin deserves. He did not count the cost of our redemption and salvation. Our response is what flows from a grateful and contrite heart. We love because Jesus loved us first.

Jesus gives us the gift of the Sabbath- the gift of His word and how it brings life as He works in and through us. We get to read the Bible. We get to worship. We get to love others as Jesus loves us.

Lord, help us to be honest with You and confess that we are sinners and that we deserve nothing, even though You offer us everything. You gave Your life on the cross so we can have life forever with You. Create in us clean hearts, free to be loved by You and to share that love and share Your gifts freely and joyfully with others. Help us to be kind. Help us to forgive. Help us to be more like You.