Monday, October 12, 2020

apocalyptic Hope and Joy

Isaiah 25:1-9        Psalm 23       Philippians 4:1-9           Matthew 22:1-14


 

Isaiah 24&25 read like the Apocalypse, foretelling the day of the Lord when He “strips the world bare” and purifies the land of the arrogant who reject Him. God brings judgement on human kings and those hidden spiritual powers which rebel against Him. Isaiah 25 contrasts the fate of the city of chaos and the city of God. The Lord will be a refuge for the poor and needy, while fierce and cruel tyrants (who are compared to blistering heat or a raging thunderstorm) will be subdued. In the new age, the Lord will provide for all people who seek Him. YHWH will dwell among us, defeating death and wiping away every tear. This judgement imagery lies behind Jesus’ parable today.

 

To refuse the wedding invitation was to shame the King. Killing the servants was an act of treachery. The parable is an illustration of the human response to Jesus. Our decision to respond has eternal repercussions.

Too often, we fill our lives with nonsense, allowing the temporal to overshadow the Eternal God. We cling to passing things and unknowingly embrace death—for in this world all is tainted by sin and death. Isaiah and Jesus provide the terrifying alternative to a faithful response.

 

Yet, the message is one of salvation and a promise of abundance—a mountain banquet of rich food and wine, a wedding banquet. We celebrate the mercy and love of God. This is what motivates Paul, who is locked in a prison awaiting death, to write the most uplifting letter in the New Testament. He cheers us on to a spirituality of praise. "Rejoice in the Lord always, again, I say, rejoice!" The Lord is near. Stop worrying...

 

The Christian mind is peaceful and joyful--it generates praise and thanks. It is the worldly mind which centers on fear, doubt, darkness and gloom. It is easy to be swept away by bad news. It is easy to forget that "the Lord is near." He comes to judge the powerful who reject Him. He comes to feed the poor and defeat death. He calls us to the banquet. So rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say, rejoice.



Monday, October 5, 2020

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32    
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

Most of us think the threat to freedom of thought comes from the world outside of us, but really it is the demonic lies and our false beliefs which steal our freedom of thought. It is the false desires which destroy the root of freedom within our souls. Our salvation lies in union with Christ. We must have that one mind together in Christ. We must be, as Paul said, sympsycos (a united soul, spiritually  one). True freedom is the agape love which serves the other and cares for their concerns.

 

Jesus is not self-seeking, His way is to turn from our natural impulses and to turn to the will of God in obedience. Our King and Lord is a servant.

 

The problem is we are the children of Adam and Eve. They were the image and likeness of God. But they regarded equality with God something to be stolen, so they disobeyed to pursue their own desires. They act not as servants, but as a rival master to God, bringing sin, death and a curse upon creation.  Therefore, God let them go and sin and violence grew and chaos swept away creation. This is the anti-Gospel, the sad story of corruption.

 

God, however, did not give up. The incarnation of God Himself was His response. Jesus was the morphe—the actual form of God, upon whom Adam was modeled. Jesus did not harpagmos (literally seize or rob; hold fast) to equality, He kenosis—emptied—and became a human (adam), choosing to be an obedient, humble, suffering servant of God. He was raised up and glorified and through His descent the foolishness of Adam, Eve, and each one of us is undone. Jesus conquers and calls us to our true identity as God’s servants.

 

We must think as He thinks, we must be emptied of our passions and self-seeking—and in love and trust, we must serve the others around us. So, yet again, we turn back to the way of Jesus, and begin once more the journey into life.


Monday, September 21, 2020

The Evil Eye

The Assyrian Kingdom was cruel and brutal. They destroyed Israel in 722 BC, and the ten northern tribes were lost into oblivion.  The Assyrian capital, Nineveh, was the largest city in the world. The prophet Nahum declared God’s judgment on Nineveh for all her evils—quoting from Exodus 34:6-7, “the Lord is slow to anger and of great power, but He does not clear the guilty.” In 621 BC the world’s largest city was totally leveled.

 The book of Jonah however, turns Nahum on its head. The only prophetic book with no oracles, Jonah is really a story where the pagans do the right thing and the prophet is unfaithful. Like the parable of the Good Samaritan, it shatters our expectations as we ask: “What is going on here?” Nineveh can be a metaphor for the enemies we despise. Like Jonah, we are resistant to engage in our ministry. God is just, He delivers the oppressed. His wrath of God is manifest against the oppressor, but God prefers that the sinner repent. Too often, like Jonah, we prefer that they perish.

 Like Nahum, Jonah also quotes Exodus 34:6 “the Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and full of kindness," but he reviles God's mercy. The story ends with God’s question, “Should I not care about Nineveh?” That question is not for Jonah, it is for us.

 Our Lord’s parable also ends with a question. The parable is a simple story about day laborers. The daily wage, or a denarius, was a just wage which allowed a worker to survive another day. The owner pays everyone the same amount because he has compassion on these impoverished men. Some men resented the kindness, focusing on themselves. In Greek, the parable ends with the question, “Do you have an evil eye because I am good?”

 An evil eye is malignant and curses the other. It fails to see that we have more in common with the Ninevites and the later arrivers than we think. An evil eye disdains God’s kindness to others, for it is concerned only with its own wants and needs.

 Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. These two stories illustrate the seductive power of the evil eye and the failure to see the humanity of the other. We must answer the questions which we are being asked today in our own lives.

 But remember that, we are the Ninevites, we are the late arrivers.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

forgive


September 14  genesis 50:15-21  Ps 103  Romans 14:1-12  Matthew 18:21-35

 Psalm 103 vividly describes the character of God. It is both amazing theology and a song of praise. 

We know our God through His deeds--He forgives, He heals, He redeems, He gives life. He blesses us in abundant life. We must reject those negative images of God which generate doubt or fear. These verses also summarize the ministry and teaching of Jesus in the Gospels!

With verse six, the Psalmist turns to the Exodus story and God’s justice. YHWH hears the cries of the oppressed and delivers them and then He invites His people to walk in His ways as His beloved covenant people. YHWH revealed Himself to Moses (Exodus 34:6) with these words: The Lord! The Lord! merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love! These words will occur again and again in the Bible; they also illustrate Jesus’ ministry. Jesus calls God, “Abba, Father” and the words verse 13 demonstrate that He is a Father who loves, cherishes and forgives His children.

As forgiveness is at the heart of our relationship with the Father, it must be in our relationships with one another. Peter asks if we must forgive everyone, everything all the time? Jesus' answer is yes. Forgive. Everyone. Everything. Always.

What of those who do great evil or who have hurt us deeply? Jesus' answer is to look to the Father.

We owe God so much. We are in debt to God for everything. We cannot calculate all that He has done for us. Each moment of every day our debt of gratitude increases, but we take so much for granted that we complain and resent that things do not go our way. We love God, yet we often give Him the leftovers of our life. We are distracted in prayer and worship, reluctant to read His word and indifferent to the mission and ministry with which we are entrusted. We also sin, we knowingly and willingly choose to betray God and turn away. So, our debt is very large. Jesus calls it “ten thousand talents,” which is like owing a billion dollars on our charge card. Even millionaires cannot pay a billion dollar personal debt…

Jesus compares our debt to God with the debt others owe us. Five or ten thousand is a significant debt, but compared to what we owe to God, it is like nothing. The patriarch Joseph understands this. He learned this lesson and could to see that the mercy and grace of God in his life canceled out the evil intent of his brothers. He forgave them because God is good.

Perhaps you need a more compelling reason? See Jesus, in His agony, saying from that cross, "Father forgive them." Jesus wiped out our debt and asked us to do the same for others. Who can refuse? 


Sunday, September 6, 2020

burden of LOVE

Ezekiel 33:7-11        Romans 13:8-14        Matthew 18:15-20  


The commandment to love raises the question, “what is love?” Currently many understand it as "toleration and acceptance." This is not a bad thing, until it requires us to turn a blind eye to sin. Others equate it with warm affection or hot desire—reducing the powerful virtue of love to an empty vice. Love is often twisted into a program of personal fulfillment, which demands that others comply with our preferences as we make the rules. Paul looks to Jesus who said that love fulfills the Torah—obeying the Lord’s commandments, not our own. 

 

The Tanach (Jewish  Bible) is a history of God’s faithful love. YHWH saves by grace alone, and those who trust in His salvation are called into covenant with Him. The Lord provides instruction (laws) to protect this relationship with His people. Jesus is the fullness of Divine love and In Him we find perfect union with one another and God. Paul warns us that this union can be broken by the false desires of the flesh. Pagan Rome is famous for its corruption, but sadly, people in every age are ruled by the passions. Sin causes death, but Ezekiel gives us good news:  God does not delight in the death of sinners nor take pleasure in the demise of the wicked. Rather, the Lord wants us to return to Him and live. It is not enough to believe this ourselves we must also proclaim it to others.

 

The prophet has a task to preach the love of God to everyone, even the unresponsive and hostile. This message can be a heavy burden. God says that if the prophet fails to warn the people, then their blood is on the prophet's hands. Because the church is a prophet, we have the same "burden of love." We must call people out of darkness into His light, or their blood is on our hands.

 

Such a vocation requires that we constantly repent and grow in love of God and our neighbor. We must also hold one another accountable because it is a team effort! We do not want the blood of our neighbors to stain any of our hands.

 

Let us be clear. This message is not about arguing politics, nor is it demonizing others. We are not trying to control others; we are inviting them to hand over control to the Lord. The best way to preach this is by our example of repentance. If we fulfill the commandments through humble love, others might hear God speak through us.

 

The ministry of a prophet may be a burden, but for those who love, the task is sweet and the burden is light.





 


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

on the other hand...

last week we heard an uplifting message of hope and a call to joy from the post-exilic prophet writing Isaiah XXX. In the Gospel, St. Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and that the gates of hell would not stand before the faith of the church. It was a good news kind of weekend.

This week we hear a darker communication. Jeremiah speaks some eighty years before the message from Isaiah. His audience is the parents and grandparents of Isaiah's audience. Jeremiah 15 is stark and grave. God doesn't care if Moses or Elijah interceded, He is done reaching out to a people who disregard Him. "Let them go, each to their own destiny," He says to Jeremiah, "I'm out of here." Jeremiah mourns the predicament of Judah, but even more effusively he laments his own hard life. It has been a lonely and difficult life, remaining faithful to God amidst a hostile and unfaithful people. Then Jeremiah's complaint takes an ugly turn. "You have been a deceitful stream to me," he accuses the Lord. The man of God an accuser...
God's response is interesting. He tells Jeremiah, "talk nonsense if you want, but if you are ready to get back to work I will take you back. I promise you victory. I will make you mighty and I will save you." No time wasted with hurt feelings or unloading emotional baggage--just divine focus on the task at hand.

We see similar focus in Jesus. The Gospels consistently portray Jesus as totally aware of His destiny in Jerusalem. He knows that He is in a conflict with the religious and worldly authorities which will cost Him His life. He gives explicit details but always with the promise of resurrection. Peter (which should be translated as Rock), operating from a human perspective, rejects suffering and death. Jesus calls him a satan, which could be translated adversary.  Peter is getting in the way, trying to trip Jesus up, all with good intentions. 

The road to the new creation includes Jesus' passion and death. The life of faith includes carrying a cross behind Him. Whatever saved by faith means, it includes losing our life in order to find it.

I said this week the message was different, but in a real sense it is the same. Being faithful is costly, but it is worth it. God will be with us through it all. We can complain, or we can push back--or we can say "amen, so be it." The offers is God's, but the choice is ours.



Sunday, August 23, 2020

Good News of Hope in Isaiah

Isaiah 51:1--6
Ps 138
Romans 112:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

The Second Isaiah contains some of the most profound verse in all of Scripture. 
 Isaiah 51 compels us: Listen! Look! over and over.
He proclaims hope to a distressed and discouraged people. He calls them to trust God's promise with courage. He doesn't deny that things are bad, he just declares that God will make them better. 

"Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord."

Verse 1, 4, 7 all begin with the word "shama"--listen, hear, obey--is a key word in the Hebrew Bible. It begins their prayer shema Israel, hear Israel. Listening, and obeying, is the love response to God's gift of salvation as Kingdom people.

"you that seek the Lord" In 45:9 the prophet says GOd did not say 'seek me in vain' and in 65:1 "I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. Those who pursue a right relationship with God, who seek His face--they will find Him. Jesus Himself confirms this in the Sermon on the Mount.  

The prophet says--look at your ancestors--look to Abraham and Sarah. They were a solitary old couple who became a great nation, I can repair and renew my people in every age. 

The barren land (a reminder of exodus) feels uninhabitable. Yet YHWH God promises comfort (a root word for Noah's name). Human eyes look at a the desert waste, but the eyes of faith see a garden of Eden (Paradise).  Pay no attention to what worries you, says the Lord, be filled with joy and gladness, sing a song and give thanks. My salvation will be forever and my deliverance will never end.  Salvation (yeshuah in Hebrew--or Jesus) is forever. Focus on Jesus friends, not the problems of the world. 
Be brave. Be strong. Look at all the turmoil and remember the sky will vanish and the earth will disappear. What the materialist calls concrete reality is really a smoky vapor. Humanity is mortal, we die like a bug.  But YHWH's saving love in Jesus is forever.

We are a broken and wounded people. We too often forget our heritage, we are distracted by our worries and concerns. We fret about real life concerns, it is hard not to do, but we too easily forget the divine perspective. God doesn't see the next election or the status of Corona the way we do. God sees us.

I find comfort in Isaiah 51 because God says, "Hey! Listen to me. Look at me. Jesus salvation is forever, the desert is the Garden of Eden still under construction. Trust me, be brave, spend more time praising and thanking. Feel the hope, feel the joy."

I think we should do just that.