Posts Tagged #lent
Read: Jonah 3.4 (NRSV)
Jonah shows us that God can change an entire city in forty days. God can change an entire nation and God can change just one heart. Wearing sackcloth and ashes on our face reminds us, and the community, of our act of repentance and the inward cleansing of our spirits and clearing the way for the Lord to work through us.
The sackcloth was scratchy and uncomfortable. The ashes were from the sacrifice of burnt offerings. Both were signs of a real change. We hear people say they are sorry or that they have changed. We want to measure the words by a change in the actions that follow.
Action Plan: What might you wear in public that would communicate that you are a work in progress for God? Try it and be ready to explain to those who ask why you are wearing your “ashes and sackcloth.”
Prayer: God help me show the world how you are at work changing my life. Amen.
Read: Ezekiel 4.6 (NRSV)
What is a just punishment for a crime? If it were up to us would we punish someone one day for every year of suffering? This is what God says will be the punishment of the house of Judah. If God can make right in one day what it takes a year to do wrong, then why can’t we try when we feel that there is no point?
You have the power to set people free from guilt, fear, and pain. One day of forgiveness can add years to someone’s life. One day of love can open doors of trust for generations to come. One day of honesty before God can set your heart right for eternity.
There is never a time to say, “there is no use in trying to repair that relationship,” to undo that injustice. And just because it may take forty years to help promote a change in society or one single heart, we should not be discouraged from taking that first step.
Action Plan: Identify a need no matter how great or small in our local community that you have been concerned about. Pray about how God can use you to bring about a change in the matter.
Prayer: Lord, help me to see what I can do every day that will make a difference for you in years to come. Amen.
Read: Psalm 95.10 (NRSV)
Does God want us to despise an entire generation? Are we to be a witness of grace? Does he want us to hate anyone? Some of us hold onto hurt and hate for a lifetime. We think we are holding harm over them or protecting ourselves.
Think of the energy and personal resources that are required to maintain prejudice, pride, blame, and leverage over others. The psalm writer beckons us to look in the mirror and do more than talk about what we don’t like. It is time to return to God’s ways for our daily living.
When we keep the fires of discontent and hatred burning long after the perceived wrong, we are hurt far more than anyone. Blame is neither a cure nor an answer. We carve out a place in our hearts to carry this burden. Why not fill our hearts with mercy?
Action Plan: Pray about a wrong you have suffered that no matter how much time passes continues to fester like a wound in your spirit. Practice true forgiveness.
Prayer: Teach me forgiveness and let me repent that I may start this day new in your will. Amen.
Read: Nehemiah 5.15 (NRSV)
As a prophet, Nehemiah helps the king hear the cry of the people. Can you imagine a king raising taxes in a time of famine in the land? People were losing their homes, farms, and vineyards in exchange for food on the table today. We have had a glimpse of this firsthand in the pandemic.
The king has a change of heart, after thinking it over, he found people to blame and charge with the injustice. He had people who were sold into slavery returned and he established lending without interest.
A leader that loses sight of the needs of the people should fear what justice God will bring upon them. Reform to help the king is different from reform that helps the people.
Action Plan: Write letters to our local and national leaders so that they might hear the cries of the oppressed.
Prayer: Help me do more than talk about injustice. Let me be an agent of change and a prophetic voice for you. Amen.
Read: 2 Kings 8.9 (NRSV)
Hazael took forty camel loads of gifts to the prophet Elisha in hopes that he would foretell if King Aram would recover from his illness. Elisha reports that the king will recover but will surely die. Elisha also tells of the king’s unjust treatment of God’s people and weeps for the harm that will come under his leadership until the king’s death. Hazael goes home, reports the good news regarding his recovery. Hazael also suffocates the king and takes his place.
It is hard to see justice during such corruption. Sometimes evil must be stopped even through war and violence. People might be doing harm to themselves and others and not make the connection. We are called to live up to those who harm or act unjustly. (Do not go suffocating anyone, please.) Speak the truth that people may choose faith when given the opportunity.
Action Plan: They might be annoyed, but if you see someone smoking ask them if you can help them kick the habit. Pray for them and encourage them, as you are able.
Prayer: Lord, help me to hear the cries of the helpless and be their prophetic voice. Amen.
Following Jesus is Life and Death and Eternal Life
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted-up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. [NRSA: John 12:20-33]
From the time Jesus turned around in Samaria and was heading back toward Jerusalem, he had tried to prepare the disciples for what was going to happen when they arrived. This passage begins as the Passover was soon to begin and the people of Israel were making journeys and pilgrimages to the Holy City from around the world. Just as Christmas is ultimately a religious holiday of Christians there are others, of different faiths and cultures, who adopt the celebrations, so there are non-Jewish persons from Greece that were in town and were asking where to find Jesus.
So think about what Jesus has accomplished at this point. He has selected and equipped disciples; He has begun teaching and preaching, as well as healing and restoring individuals and families. Jesus has drawn great crowds and performed divine miracles. He has threatened the establishment and confronted evil and sin. Jerusalem, at Passover, is the pinnacle moment.
As I side note, recall how one of Jesus’s temptations in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry tells this moment. The temptation that was atop the Temple and he was tempted to use that moment to become Israel’s earthly king, the long-awaited, political savior. And here Jesus is in Jerusalem with the pinnacle moment at hand.
The Tipping Point
While Jesus is trying to talk to his disciples about death and namely Jesus’s death, there comes word, from visiting people from Greece, who want to visit with Jesus. When Jesus hears that those who are non-Jewish believers have come seeking Jesus, it reflects how far the message and power of the Gospel had reached. When the unbelievers come asking in belief, Jesus knew the mission to be accomplished. It was bigger than Jesus as a person. It was more than the faithful efforts of the disciples; it was going to become worldwide.
This assurance was a tempting moment. Do we build a stronger base? Do we overturn the temple AND the Romans and take over the world as the leader of the World? In the Wilderness it was a theory in his mind, today it is a vibrant and attractive reality. His following words and actions reveal his spiritual choice.
What we hear in this passage is Jesus’s struggling with the options. Look I am famous. Look how far my influence has reached in such a short time. I’ve gone platinum!! Why do am I faced with temptation at the very moment all the pieces are coming together? Can’t I enjoy a few parades and perks first? (Have the cake and eat it too?) (Free Israel from slavery, make it through the wilderness, AND taste the fruit of the Promised Land?] Is God being mean, teasing us to test us?
What Type of King is Jesus?
What Type of Followers of Jesus Are We?
There is the reason we know this moment was a pinnacle moment is shown as God speaks to Jesus and to the world. Most misunderstand the words as thunder, some only comprehend the voice of an angel, but the voice of God that spoke at Jesus’s baptism, the voice that spoke at the Mountain of Transfiguration, is the Voice speaking in Jerusalem.
This is my Son, listen to him. He Will Reveal my Glory. It is time for Grace to pour out. It is time for the sacrifice of “THE Passover Lamb” for the whole world, Jew and Greek.
The heart of the lesson
Our decision to follow Jesus is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. It is the all-day, every-day, relationship of trust and faith, lived out if we have days to live and breath to breathe. Our own journey is not complete. For when we find our way to Christ, we are called to bring others to him as well.
Following Jesus’s Lead
As disciples today, we learn from Jesus that God has our hearts and our back. Nothing can stop the love of God, therefore trust the eternal source of Good, Love, Grace, Strength, Hope, Power, Peace, Truth, Wholeness, Creation, Life, and Meaning — and place everything else into perspective.
Jesus gives the powerful grain of wheat illustration, the one life we have becomes the root, the seed, the foundation for a hundred others.
Who are the people coming to you asking about Christ? Asking about God? Asking about the Holy Spirit? Asking about the work and witness of the church? If folks aren’t asking then maybe you are not advertising. Maybe you and need the reality that other people listen to us, watch us, follow and friend us, and they are learning something about us.
If there is any question about our witness drawing others to Christ, then we know where our temptation is almost heaven, and where to seek God’s help the most.
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. [NRSA: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25]
Stumbling block of wisdom.
- God’s foolishness is wiser than our wisdom.
- God’s weakness of grace, patience, and love are our greatest gifts and blessings.
We do not like to be called fools.
- That means we should have known better.
- It means we might have underestimated our competition.
- We might have known what to avoid but did not follow what we knew to be good.
- Or we allowed our self to be misled or were taken advantage of by trusting the wrong person or not preparing for a task.
- Sometimes, we are called a fool, by a fool, who believes they hold the only solution, tool, or idea that is correct and their name-calling is a way of discouraging or degrading us.
- Most of the time we do not need anyone’s help in doing the opposite of what is good, right, needed, or true.
- When we look around, we have many role models of being fools.
Part of Paul play on words is between acting in foolish ways or thinking fool ideas compared to the foolishness we think of as humor.
Together let’s start with this prayer.
Mule & Farmer Story
The very first sermon I recall ever hearing about this comparing our wisdom with God’s foolishness, the preacher told a folk story about an old farmer whose mule was braying without ceasing all through the night. The next morning, he went out to the barn to examine the mule. As he poked, prodded, listened, and looked around the stall, he saw the mule had not eaten his dinner, his breath was terrible, and was laying down braying with the little energy the mule had. To touch the mule’s abdomen was we increate the bellows. The farmer called the vet who said, it is simple, your mule is constipated. I will be there in a half-hour! The farmer said, what will you do? The Vet said I will take a quart of mineral oil and half a cup of laxative and blow the mixture through a tube into the mule’s mouth. The farmer concocted the remedy confident that he was as smart as the vet and would be saving the fee by solving the problem himself. He told the vet, “No bother I will try that and call if it doesn’t work.” The farmer raced to connect an old milk jug, some tubing, and the mixture and fashion one end into the mule’s mouth. In his haste, he stirred up a bit of dust that caused the mule to take a giant sneeze, and just as the farm place the other end of the tube in his own mouth the mule blows first. Under the greater pressure, the farmer ingested a significant amount of the mule’s dose of the vet’s remedy. The farmer immediately regrated calling off the vet, who had had to call from the bed where he lay braying and moaning in the house. Moral: Sometimes when we think we know best; the mules blow first.
That is a long way to go to get a dose of foolishness, but we often take God’s gifts, plans, and breath into our own minds and hands and it backfires on us as well.
Humor and funny stories can be tools to tell the truth.
Being humorous is not Paul’s main point. Recognizing those who say they know better than God, despite their authority, popularity, and public approval, are in all times, fools to be avoided instead of emulated.
- The fools who believe the world’s news is more important than God’s news have already made a grave mistake before the first word is spoken.
- The fools who believe they have found the meaning of life without the need for God nor the flaws of religion place a greater wall of ignorance than millennia of ‘learned’ teaching.
- The fools say I know because they say they can replicate something in nature but they do so using elements already found in nature, and ideas that I have already been organized in God’s wisdom.
- The fool says I have learned, invested, given, tried, worked, served enough – it is someone else turn. God is never through with us and the moments we give up we forfeit what God will be doing through us next.
- The fool says the problem is too hard, I have failed in the past, We have tried before. We don’t have time, money, or people. “We can’t” and yet this is the confession that fools need to hear.
What can I do that is good, loving, and true, that is not done with God’s help, guidance, and blessing?
Who holds the power?
We have much learned in the academic world that invests trillions of dollars. We have political programs that reach through multiple generations of people. Our financial institutions span the globe with instantaneous transfers of wealth. Technology promises the rapid progress of amassing and discerning information at faster capacities than our minds can comprehend. But each of these has fundamental flaws that we choose to overlook in our society of progress. Academics can become bias. Politicians can be corrupted, we cannot eat consume legal tenders when we hunger, and where is technology when the power goes out? We need more than goals, ideas, control, and tools. We need the very reason to use all of these together, for good, in relationship to their design.
Alton Brown, Food Network Star, was the first person to that recall naming kitchen gadgets that take up room in the drawer or on the counter and can only do one job. He tries his best to avoid, “Unitaskers” preferring to invest in something that serves a variety of needs and not just one.
There are three exceptions in the kitchen.
- A thermometer for the oven
- A fire extinguisher
- A cherry pitter
These three save your teeth, keep your oven honest, and your home safe. They don’t need to do anything else.
But a salad spinner might be nice for cleaning lettuce, but you can also just shake it. A knife can peal a potato, slice meat, and pry open things.
What does multi-tasking and uni-tasking have to do with the Apostle Paul and the Christian faith?
As people with free will we are created with the freedom to be multi-taskers, but we are also created with a hope to become unitaskers.
When we are created with the ability to choose to love, trust, forgive, heal, bless, inspire, teach, share, build, feed, clothe, and befriend God and others because we share God’s love for life and relationship, then even though we are busing with many things in different times, we ultimately have one design that fits our nature.
The fool is using all the gifts, blessings, people, resources, talents, knowledge, and opportunity to serve themselves or those who believe God is not what makes the universe good, meaningful and loving, and we trade the ultimate joy for some little joy that lasts a moment compare an eternity of life in God.
I’ve been participating in a healthy choice lifestyle system that is not just a diet, with bars, shakes, weigh-ins, and coaching. The whole system is an experiment in learning how the little stuff adds up to the total. How one donut, a peanut butter cup, or a soft drink seem insignificant on their own, and in the moment, but by scales, sphygmomanometer, and glucose strips all tell me the little things have been adding up in a detrimental way. (Blood pressure cuff thingy is a sphygmomanometer.) The simple truth in changing my life and lifestyle is giving value and significance to individual small choices, ideas, and actions.
How do we shape our spiritual self? How do we find God? Where do we start to start fresh?
The how and why don’t actually matter as much as the starting to look at our lives the way God looks at
- our life,
- our family,
- our body,
- our value, and
- our purpose.
God’s story is told through the individual stories and events of people throughout time. That is what we find in the Old and New Testament. The average person in our community sees scripture as a book of judgmental rules, of dos and don’ts, that we believe we are the professional keepers of the truth. But this is not the real truth offered to us in scripture.
- God reveals God’s image and nature through us.
- God reveals God’s word and ideas in scripture.
- God reveals God’s presence in the creation, the wind, and the fellowship of God’s faithful.
So here we are, a third of the journey toward Easter is passing us by and where are we going?
- Who are we following in the day-to-day small stuff?
- Where are we headed with all that we carry in our bundle of responsibilities?
- How are we going find the heart of Christ in the face of fools telling us they know better than God than the church than us as the Body of Christ?
Let’s make one wise choice starting today, right now.
Read: Matthew 4.2 (NRSV)
Our journey begins and ends in God’s presence, walking with us through each day. We have been on a journey this Lenten season of study, prayer, fasting, and witnessing the hope of Easter. For it is Easter that drives us into the wilderness and what also drives us back out.
Christ’s journey has led us through our own personal journey. In these weeks we have seen how much we need Christ who can withstand all temptation to stand with us.
The end is in sight. We can now rest from our journey for tomorrow we enter the gates with thanksgiving in our hearts! Yet, be on guard that temptation not take you over.
Action Plan: Lay out what you plan to wear to church and get plenty of rest, but never forget where you would be if we had not made the trip.
Prayer: Thank you for standing with me, all the way to the end. Amen.
Read: Exodus 16:35 (NRSV)
As slaves, the Hebrews ate from the “fleshpots” in Egypt. Yes, they were slaves, but the food bar was as dependable and easy to find as Golden Corral. On the journey out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land, God provided daily bread called ‘manna.’ Every day manna appeared on the ground. The Hebrew travelers were to gather exactly what they needed for the day; any extra manna would spoil if they tried to gather more than what they needed for that day. The manna was God’s form of MRE and an ongoing lesson about trusting God in daily life. Part of the “promise” of the Promised Land was that it would be a land filled with milk and honey. They were being taught faithfulness, trust, and patience. If the people could find a shortcut, there would be no need for the journey or God.
Central to our spiritual journey is turning to God at the start of each day to find what we need for that day. The day we wake and not need God is a day that will be empty, lifeless, and without hope. [KJV: Hebrews 13: 8] “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” God promises to be revealed in our daily reading and studying the Word just as the manna. We know where to find the word. It is in books on our shelf, apps on our devices, and parts are even loaded in our memory.
Action Plan: Look up and write down a verse of scripture that helps you remember to trust God throughout the day. Place it at your seat at the table, on your lunch bag, on the dash of your car, as a screensaver, or where you will see it regularly as a call to faith and prayer. Prayer: God you are with us every day, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. Help us trust your leading as often as you are present with us. Amen.