February 7, 2020- Wisdom, Love and Reflecting Light- Psalm 36

:full-moon

Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.

For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.

The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good.

He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart!

Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.

There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise. Psalm 36 (ESV)

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

The moon can only reflect the light of the sun.  It is muted, a satellite, a mirror, rather than the source. All that as we as creatures can do is act as satellites or mirrors to God, our Source of light.

The summary of the Law- the Shema- taught in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” is the primary wisdom lesson taught in Scripture.  The next most important wisdom lesson of Scripture is taught in multiple places- the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom– (Proverbs 9:10) and is one that points us back again to the foundational truth of the Shema. 

We learn the converse of this corollary in Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.”

Contrary to popular knowledge, human beings apart from God have nothing but darkness to offer.  Just as the moon cannot reflect light unless the sun shines on it, we cannot reflect light apart from having the light of God shine on us.

Jesus Himself taught that: No one is good but God alone. (Luke 18:19)

We know that the Law is good, but we are powerless in our own strength to obey it.

The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

It seems a little odd that this Psalm both affirms the reality that all we can do is to reflect God’s light, and seemingly opposite reality that we take refuge in the shadow of His wings.

Even as God was speaking to Moses, we learn God did not reveal Himself to Moses entirely, but shielded him from the fullness of His glory.  The purity and the intensity of the full on light and power of God would destroy Moses and any other sinful, mortal human.  We cannot stand alone in the presence of God and live.

And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”  Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”  And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”  And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock,  and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” Exodus 33:17-23 (ESV)

Jesus is our Light and Life, but also our Refuge.  In Jesus, we are shielded from God’s wrath- as our sins have been paid for by Him- even as we reflect His light in the world.

Lord, we thank You both for the light You reflect off of us, and for the safety of Your refuge in Jesus.  Give us the wisdom to “put on our baptism as daily wear” and to trust in you that we are forgiven and that You will give us what we need to stay faithful to you and to serve our neighbors in all we do.

 

The Second Commandment- The Name of God- Exodus 20:7, 1 Kings 18:20-40, Proverbs 9:10

names of God

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”- Exodus 20:7

The Second Commandment.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.

What does this mean?–Answer:

We should fear and love God that we may not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. – Martin Luther’s Small Catechism

Those of us who are prone to the use of expletives are very convicted upon contemplating the Second Commandment.  God has an identity.  God is real, in fact so real that He is beyond time.  He is the I AM.  We are commanded to reserve the use of His name for praise, prayer, supplication and thanksgiving- and not for empty mocking or cursing.

In the First Commandment we learn that God is a jealous God Who does not take rivals lightly.  Through Elijah God proved the false god Ba’al to be exactly that: false.  We learn in 1 Kings 18:20-40 that God not only brought the fire down from heaven, but He also destroyed the 450 prophets of Ba’al.   There is power in God’s Name.  There is no power in the names of idols- whether we call them Ba’al, Molech, Mammon, or by the names of the idols we create. There is also no real power in the names or in the earthly authority of governments, corporations or ourselves.  The power we think we have in our own authority – and in that of worldly authorities- is given by God.  Our earthly existence is as tenuous and temporary as that minute electrical signal that triggers our heartbeats. God holds all the power.

In these days we are tempted to follow the lead of the culture around us, to take the use of the Name of God lightly, or to doubt in God’s power or sovereignty.

When we call upon the Name of God we are calling upon the power of the Omnipotent Source of all power.  We are commanded to remember that, and we are privileged to have been given that connection to our all-powerful God.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.  Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

January 5, 2018 Epiphany- God Runs the Show- Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:1-4, 7-12, Luke 3:16

wise men

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2 (NIV)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born…

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:1-4, 7-12 (NIV)

Few things drive people to drastic action more than threats to their authority and power. Herod, as we learn later in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 2:13-18), had no desire to come and worship the King of Kings.  Herod attempted to eliminate who he perceived as a threat to his reign while He was still vulnerable and easily dispensed with.

How do we deal with perceived threats to our authority or to our egos? It’s human nature to get defensive.  Nobody wants to be upstaged by the new talent at work or one upped by someone younger or less experienced than we are.  Nobody wants their power taken away.  We all naturally defend what we believe to be ours.  Some of us go even further and just take anything we can take by force.

The struggle over authority is as old as time. Pride, the serpent’s temptation in the Garden, convinces us that we are worthy of a position that God never intended for us. Humans will do incredibly inhumane acts in the pursuit of power.

Did Herod realize that his authority wasn’t really his authority at all, but only what God allowed him to have?

One of the most liberating and refreshing epiphanies we can have (the word epiphany means “to shine light on, to reveal”) is to discover for ourselves that God is in control. God decides who plays what role at what time.  It is God who determines the course of His world.  We may not understand how and why- and we might not agree with who He works through and when He does things, but God is the director of this dance.

Herod’s will was for Jesus to die an infant, before He could teach and preach and heal and live as an example for this world. Instead, God made a way to preserve the infant Jesus and keep Him safe until Herod was no more. (Matthew 2:19-23)

The Magi had the right attitude toward the pursuit of wisdom and power and strength. Theirs was one of humility and wonder. They truly did want to worship and adore this great King.

John the Baptist had the right attitude toward the authority and power of Jesus.

“John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Luke 3:16 (NIV)

 

July 24, 2017- Fools Are Everywhere, Talk Is Cheap, but God Has the Power- Proverbs 14:7, 1 Corinthians 4:20, 2 Corinthians 4:6-8

ship of foolsLeave the presence of a fool, for there you do not find words of knowledge. Proverbs 14:7 (NRSV)

For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power.- 1 Corinthians 4:20 (NRSV)

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.- 2 Corinthians 4:6-8 (NRSV)

Anyone who follows any kind of TV drama, or even who watches the news, will learn that talk is cheap. It’s easy to learn how to talk a good game.  Politicians attempt to color themselves as the best thing out there since sliced bread.  Athletes put on the swagger- and the smack talk- before key sports events.  However, in the end, only actions and results stand the test of time.

We live in an era of instant information and instant gratification, but how much “information” is really just foolish babbling? How do we know what information is edifying (things we need to know) and what information we should just let pass by?

Much of what we know to be good science and history are backed up in Scripture, even though Scripture was never intended to be a science or a history textbook. Many things science once thought to be “fact” have later been proven to be completely wrong- based on erroneous assumptions or conclusions drawn before all of the evidence was considered.  We now know the world is round, not flat.  We know that germs cause disease, not “miasmas” or “bad air.” We are slowly discovering that the archeological record backs up many of the events portrayed in the Bible.  Humans don’t always do the greatest job figuring out things, or getting to the truth.

Pontius Pilate remarked, when Jesus was brought to him for judgment, “What is truth?-“(John 18:38) as if truth were something that is arbitrary and subjective as we humans can be.  Many times we can be fools.  Many times we just go with society’s flow, or go dancing around to whatever tune sounds good today.  We aren’t always noted for the words of knowledge that leave our lips, or come forth from our pens or keyboards.

The apostle Paul was very aware that God’s kingdom is built on God’s power- not on the power of weak and fallible humans, but real power. Power that transforms and makes things-and people-new.  Even in spite of our fragility and weakness, God finds a way to shine through us.

Are we living in and trusting in God’s power today? Even when we seem to be sailing on a ship of fools, and the words and so called wisdom of the prevailing culture tell us to do otherwise?