Archive for January, 2021
- Third Sunday after the Epiphany – January 24, 2021
- Photo: https://g.co/arts/MrXXqjJwnQ1PxEjC8
- Video: HTTP:
“The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. ..When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them, and he did not do it. “ [NRSA: Jonah 3:1-5,10]
Context: OT Prophetic, This part of the Jonah story begins after the adventure with the big fish.
- Living Through Being Swallowed Up
- Three Days in the Belly
- Three Days Walking through the City
- Dismiss the debates about survivability inside a whale or large beast– a distraction
- The Retreat: three days apart, followed by the message being shared.
- The story has a miracle, but that is not its real power…
- Call to Repentance / Sackcloth
- God uses our trials, struggles, and times of fear, self-doubt, and rejection to model us and inspire us to ministry
- The wearing of Sackcloth is a public witness that we are someone going through some tragic time but we ALSO know God is using this time to 1) call to repentance, 2) call to faith, 3) Call to sharing.
- The People changed their hearts and God changes God’s mind.
- Shocking to Jonah: Imagine our political leaders confessing their corruptions and ask for God to forgive.
- The evidence of Jonah’s journey of faith, inspired a nation, to turn toward God.
- What struggles, trials, suffering has tested my/your faith?
- How will God use our fears, doubts, and failures for God’s good work and witness?
- Our role as prophets: Call others to seek God’s truth. Not left or right, rather the heart of God.
- God’s call to Jonah was to get up and go, reveal the darkness and evil in people’s lives, and repent/ turn toward God. The Action Plan
- The Fruit of faithfulness.
- The power of trusting God.
- The transformation from evil through faith in action.
As we look around and listen to our neighbors, our friends and enemies, is there a need for people to turn away from broken, hurtful, sinful ways? YES!
- As we see and hear the news and messages around us, what are we, the Body of Christ, called tell the world.
- Do we jump on the world’s band wagon?
- Are we called to take political sides?
- Are called to be quiet and polite?
- Are we scared of being swallowed up by
- John 1:43-51 New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha
- “Second Sunday after the Epiphany” January 17, 2021
- Video: https://youtu.be/j3KH3CnKq2w
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” [NRSA: John 1:43-51]
Central to Jesus’s work is the calling and equipping of disciples. He calls Philip who is influential in reaching Nathanael and other disciples and further sharing the Good News.
The convincing thing that Jesus grab Nathanael’s interest, trust, and response concerns both Philip and a Fig Tree.
Let’s look at the fig tree first.
As a personal testimony concerning fig trees, I have shared with you that I’m not a big fan of figs unless they are inside a Newton. Then, along with a glass of whole milk, I find the combination rather enjoyable. In reflection of thirty-six years of ministry and eighteen years prior as a preacher’s kid, there have been seven parsonages that had fig trees in the yard, and typically near the driveway. I don’t believe there are such instructions in the Book of Disciples about the furnishing of parsonages that include fig-trees, but as it is a prominent story in scripture I see that it is more likely to have fig bushes than mulberry or olive trees.
The things I have disliked about fig trees are the birds flocking to eat the fruit just when it is ripe that startle one passing by and the mess the birds leave when the remnants have fallen to the grown and one slips on a slimy fig leftover walking around the bush. Also, it’s another item that needs pruning, trimming, and maintenance in the yard. Nevertheless, the one bush that is at the end of our current driveway and near the path to the back yard in our current home is a fig bush. But by now, I have grown accustomed and find it a fond site every day. (I still don’t care to eat a fig, thankful our bush doesn’t have many left after the birds do their job.)
Why would someone be sitting under the fig tree? Likely, the broad branches filled with leaves would provide a cool and shaded spot on a blistering hot day. Secondly, for those who enjoy eating that fruit, it would be a shaded spot filled with snacks available at arms reach. What better place to rest: cool shade and convenient easts. Together, that tells us that Nathanael is a smart cookie. (maybe not as smart as a Fig Newton? I digress)
It is actually more important to see that Jesus’s call of disciples is not by chance. It is with insight, purpose, and intention that Jesus is looking for those to start the work of the church and to see it through times of struggle as well.
Part of what makes Nathanael a candidate for disciple-hood, is resourcefulness, his smarts, and practicality. These are good skills for a disciple. Part of what Jesus saw in Philip was his ability to reach other people. And this is just how Nathanael comes to meet Jesus, that is through Philip. The story of this fig tree is only to further persuade ‘Nate’ that God is already at work in his life.
The “Fig Tree” becomes a symbol of God’s patience, grace, and judgment later in Jesus’s ministry. But today’s fig tree is a person’s moment and place of being known by God.
Too often we don’t actually live thinking about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit being with us on a daily basis. Surely they are too busy, with more important matters, than to monitor our moment by moment activities. And if so we imagine that God must at least be looking aware at times and not see, hear, and be aware of our everyday life.
If we think of God being with us we would either be emboldened to defy God’s righteousness by doing what is evil, or opposite, or contrary to God, in God’s presence. And, if we think that God is too busy to be present with us, always, then we are not always trusting God’s presence in our fears, anxieties, and worries.
I’m assuming that we all just don’t think God is with us in the minute details, rather just checking in when we are at church, or in prayer, or study, or some random chance. Part of the Philip and Nathanael ‘call’ stories teach us that God is at work intentional with us, even when we are not aware of those moments.
When we think of God being busy, looking the other way, with some more important, more needed, or more evil than ourselves, we actually are teaching ourselves God is much smaller. Know that we don’t have to fully figure out God, even though God fully knows us.
Though this passage teaches us God is concerned, Jesus is with us, the Holy Spirit is in the breeze, in the share, in the daily tasks, and no matter how ingenious, smart, clever, resourceful, or alert, God is always a step ahead, a step behind, and standing with us.
So what do fig-trees, Philip, and Nathanael have to do with us in 2021?
God is no less interested in working in our lives than God was working with that tree, the tree in the middle of the garden or the bush at the end of our driveway. God is not less interested in working through our relationships, our days and night, our work and rest, to reveal the kingdom of God throughout the world in our time.
2021 is a call for the church, our church, every church to see the ordinary elements of our work and rest and the relationships that we already have established to be open to God’s revealing the Kingdom today.
In review, what has God seen us do this week that reveals God’s presence? Are our words, thoughts, and actions reflecting God’s presence, God’s patience, God’s power, and God’s plan — or have we done a better job of reflecting our own understanding, our own expectations, and our own goals?
Both Philip and Nathanael have different talents. God uses each of us in different ways, but the core, our starting point comes in recognizing that God’s Spirit is with us, and is longing to love us and work through us to bless the whole world.
2020 the church faced the greatest threat of being not relevant than ever in our lifetimes. We have clearly been labeled as non-essential workers. I’m not trying to make a political statement, I am clearly making a spiritual statement. In our collective lifetime, we have not been instructed to close our doors. Recall our motto was once, “Open Doors..” The threat of pandemic has made it easier to not gather for Christian fellowship, to NOT share our questions and stories of faith in the study; it has made it easier to occupy our time and interest in other activities.
When the pandemic started, if you were listening, your pastor/preacher reminded that this would be a time to spend more effort in prayer, study, and spiritual preparation. For some of us, 2020 was a good excuse to be sitting under the safe shade of a fig tree and not risk the heat of the day. We have grown more comfortable expending less in being the church in the name of safety.
We have tried to be innovative and creative, but the question comes to us: for a world that is starving for faith, security, peace, hope, trust, truth, love, and grace — have we been eating figs under the shade of the tree to prepare us for what is next, or simply to get by, be safe, be contented.
Nathanael’s ‘call’ story is as convicting for us as it was for him. Philip and Nathanael have a similar story to the familiar story of Mary and Martha. Both of those sisters had great talents and skillsets; Mary’s were needed more at one time, while Martha’s at a different time.
2020 was our retreat under the fig tree. 2021 is our call to reach out to those we know and those we are called to reach out to bring people to the love, truth, and heart of Christ for themselves.
Take this week to begin a list of persons that God might be calling you to reach, invite, call, and bless.
Take this week to move from the silent prayers of homes and hearts, into the conversation with share with others that they might clearly experience God’s Spirit working in their own lives.
2020 might been names Nathanael. 2021 is Philip. The year of stepping out of the shade, away from the figs, and into each other’s hearts.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ, we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. [NRSA: Ephesians 1:3-14]
Spend the Inheritance?
If your financial planner tells you its time to spend all your live savings, you either have a terrible advisor or he or she has some serious insider trading information that you need to listen to quickly.
But our spiritual inheritance is different because of the power to love in the face of our enemies, the grace to look beyond the past that has separated us. Paul writes to the churches of Ephesus calling them to step up their faith and witness. He knows they are able because of God’s plan, Christ’s death, and resurrection, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
A New Year, A Renewed Charge and renewed Strength
I have been fascinated with the unfolding of ancient cultures and people’s structural remains of architecture reveal an obsession with connecting the order of civil life to the sun, moon, and stars. The use of lasers and LIDAR has been scanning the globe revealing lost cities around the world that have been lost in time but reveal very organized people who had advanced knowledge of the order of the creation. The orientation of roads, buildings, mounds, entrances to caves, and the placement of stones and markers are used to measure time, season, and the general order of the earth in the universe. In Turkey, structures are found to orient people long before our accepted understanding, people have celebrated the markers of each new year. In Chine, in the Pacific Islands, in the Amazon, in the Southwestern US, in Europe and Africa, we are finding evidence that we have been looking for order, purpose, and direction for more generations than we can imagine.
As we begin a near year, let us hear these words Paul’s shares with the church then, to allow them to be heard a new, and inspire us into faithful action:
In our reading we learn:
- God has a plan. The plan includes us as children, in God’s family.
- God’s plan includes the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, for us, for God’s purpose.
- God’s plan is lavishly spent on us, therefore we can lavishly praise and bring glory to God.
- God’s Spirit is giving us wisdom, insight, and revealing what once was a mystery.
To what end? For what Purpose?
God’s plan includes a desire for all of us to be united through grace into faithful trust, obedience, and relationship.
What is the measure of a successful parent?
Look to the scriptures:
- Colossians 3:21 do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
- Ephesians 6:4 do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
- Exodus 20:12 Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
- Hebrews 12:11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
- Proverbs 22:6 Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
- Matthew 6:33-34 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
- Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- Proverbs 1:8-9 Listen, my child, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. 9 They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.
- 1 Peter 5:2-3 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
- Psalm 127:3-5 Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. 4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. 5 Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.
- Deuteronomy 6:6-9 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
- Joshua 4:20-24 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.”
- Proverbs 3:1-12 My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, 2 for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. 3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. 8 This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. 9 Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; 10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. 11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
Psalm 78:1-7 My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old— 3 things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they, in turn, would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.
Paul gives the fulfillment of Psalm 78: Christ is revealed. The Holy Spirit is poured out! Salvation is made possible through life, death, and resurrection.
so that: vs 7 of Ps.78, “Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.“
There it is!
God has made spent our inheritance that we might trust God, remember God’s works of love and grace so that we would keep God’s righteousness, commandments, and be a living witness of that trust.
So as we begin this new year, let us do more than resolve to trust God’s righteousness, let us begin now. It is not our goal, it is the mission.
Our key response to the Resurrection and Salvation that God has given us in Christ is to be the inspiration of what John Wesley identified as SANCTIFICATION.
- It is the sum of the activities that we do to grow in faith, share our faith, and praise God.
- If it helps to think in terms of New Year Resolutions, choose a new spiritual practice and set a course to be devoted to it for God’s purpose.
Most of the New Year Resolutions are for our own benefit. We want to lose weight, start exercising for our physical activity for health, We create budgets to save and spend more responsibility.
This invitation is, again, more than a resolution, more than a goal or suggestion. Take the steps of faith to make 2021 the memorable year of our spiritual growth.
- Some Ideas:
- Read through the Bible in 364 days. Start today, there are several good suggestions, simply Google them.
- If your health allows, begin one day a week that becomes your fast each week. Drinking water, coffee, or tea but no food and spend that time on food procurement, preparation, consumption, and cleaning in prayer, study, singing, or service.
- Begin a personal ministry of faith sharing. Write out your faith journey, nuggets of what and why your faith gives you strength, and find ways to bring Christ into your weekly conversations with others.
- Start a prayer group, find a group of people that you share on the phone or texting, or social media, and share prayer concerns and pray to encourage one another and lift others up.
- Start a new devotion reading. There are resources on the Upper Room website and dozens at Christain bookstores. Start the day, end the day, or find a time during the day to start a new spiritual habit.
- Start a new saving plan that is specifically for God to use for others in need. This past year has devastated many and 2021 may hold new challenges that are yet to be experienced that your gifts will be a blessing.
- While worship online has been a challenge for most everyone, it is something that we need to cherish every opportunity to sing, share, and experience the Christain community in every way we can. Be devoted to not miss weekly worship and share the experience with others by sharing links and experiences that encourage others.
- Bottom line, don’t stop what you are currently doing… add a spiritual discipline to what you are already doing. If none of these have been your practice, then start one or some similar spiritual exercise program.
The Goal, the Mission is to praise and grow in our relationship with God and one another.
These are the things that open the door to God’s heart.
These are ways that we show our praise.
“In Christ, we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.“
You are called, you are blessed, you are equipped, you are strengthened, you are saved, you are the investment. Make 2021 the year you begin to mature God’s trust.