pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Welcome and Hospitality

Reading: Jeremiah 29: 1 and 4-7

Verses 5 and 6: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”.

Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles invites them to become a part of the society that they have been forced into. It can be the tendency to try and remain isolated and to hold onto what makes one unique. Thinking back to the high point of immigration in the US, for example, cities had ethnic neighborhoods like Little Italy and Chinatown. In some cases whole towns had a mostly homogeneous ethnic make-up. In our passage today, God is encouraging the Israelites to become a part of where they are. They are instructed to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat… Marry and have sons and daughters”. They are to live with and amongst their new neighbors.

Today we have both immigrants and refugees that come to the US. The refugees are most like the exiles because these groups tend to arrive in significant numbers. There are often language barriers and usually social and cultural differences as well. These factors tend to isolate us from our new neighbors and vice versa. But they do not have to. A little north and east of the town I live in is a town that welcomes refugees and immigrants. The school system works hard to help the children and the community provides employment opportunities for the adults. Churches play a role in the acclimation process in a number of ways. The Latino and Hmong people have enriched and have helped the whole community to thrive. They are not without instances of prejudice and intolerance, but overall it is a successful experiment. They are modeling well Jesus’ example of loving the other.

In almost all of our communities we have new people move in. In my town they usually come from another town in or near South Dakota, but occasionally they are from further abroad. In these cases, we too should extend welcome and hospitality to them. We as Christians should do what we can to help them succeed and flourish because when they prosper, we prosper too – not just economically but socially and spiritually as well.

As individuals, as churches, and as communities, may we be people of love, extending radical hospitality to all we meet. In doing so we also extend God’s love.

Prayer: Father of all, help me to be a friend to all. Empower me to love others unconditionally, just as you love me. Create in me generous hands and feet and a giving heart, just as Jesus modeled for us. Thank you, Father God. Amen.


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Compassion and Love

Reading: Luke 13: 14-17

Verse 16: “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham… be set free… from what bound her”?

Jesus heals on the Sabbath, elevating this woman’s need over keeping the law. Compassion and love lead Jesus to action. This “work” on the Sabbath makes the synagogue leader “indignant”. One definition of this word is: “feeling or showing anger because of something unjust or unworthy” (Merriam-Webster). From our viewpoint, healing the woman is neither unjust or unworthy. The leader paraphrases one of the Ten Commandments, basically saying to come be healed on the other six days.

Jesus addresses the leader’s indignant heart. He begins by reminding all there that they care for their animals on the Sabbath, meeting their basic needs. He then extends the idea to someone much more worthy of care: the woman. Jesus says to all there: “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham… be set free… from what bound her”? If you care for your ox or donkey on the Sabbath, how much more should you care for a child of God? The religious leaders are shamed, as they should be. Jesus’ point is obvious. The crowd recognizes this, expressing delight in Jesus’ actions. In our hearts, we too cheer for Jesus.

The Sabbath was a day set aside to worship God and to renew the body. The woman was able to do both because Jesus reached out to her. Sometimes in our worship we too are led to deeper love and compassion. Perhaps the message or the scripture or a song or prayer time may trigger action in you. Maybe a “least of these”, like the woman, will be placed on your heart by the Holy Spirit. If so, may you practice love and compassion today, helping another closer to God this day.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your story of love and compassion today. Help me to see beyond the surface today and to engage those who need healing and wholeness. Amen.


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You Are gods

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 6: “I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High'”.

Our Psalm opens with the God of the universe questioning the ‘gods’. God asks them how long will they defend the unjust and show favor to the wicked? This idea ran through yesterday’s reading. It is why God sent Amos to speak against the actions of the king. In our lives, do we ever defend the unjust? In our lives, do we ever favor the wicked?

The psalmist goes on to define God’s preferred behavior for the ‘gods’. First, they must “defend the case of the weak and fatherless”. Speak against injustice and poor treatment. Second, “maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed”. Stand beside those who cannot stand up for themselves. Third, “rescue the weak and needy”. When the unfortunate have fallen victim or are suffering, step in to rescue and redeem them. And lastly, “deliver them from the hand of the wicked”. Place yourself between the unjust and wicked and deliver the marginalized out from their abuse and I’ll treatment. Place yourself in the line of fire.

These behaviors or actions that we hear the psalmist calling for in verses 3 and 4 sound a lot like Jesus to me. He was certainly on the side of the marginalized and the poor. Jesus definitely spoke out against the people and institutions that created or allowed for the lesser treatment of people. Much of Jesus’ ministry focused on loving and caring for and restoring the other. It should be no surprise that in speaking God’s word the psalmist directs the ‘gods’ to do the same things that Jesus did.

In verse 6 the psalmist writes, “I said, ‘You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High'”. We Christians, we who have claimed our eternal inheritance as sons and daughters of the Most High, we who have claimed our birthright as brothers and sisters with Christ, we are the ‘gods’ that the psalmist addresses today. Accordingly, may we choose to side with the poor and needy. May we speak up for the abused and oppressed. May we stand against people and institutions that take advantage of the weak. In short, may we walk as Jesus Christ walked.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the needs in my community. Fill me heart with compassion and with courage to walk with the marginalized and the weak. Help me to live as Jesus lived each day. Amen.


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God Claims Us

Reading: Luke 3: 15-17 & 21-22

Verses 21-22: “Jesus was baptized too… the Holy Spirit descended… a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son'”.

Jesus comes to John the Baptist to be baptized. It is what John does. John calls people to repent of their sins to prepare their lives for the coming of the Messiah. In our text today we have Jesus, the only one to live a life without sin, coming to be baptized. His baptism is also a preparation. Earlier in our text today John indicated that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. You have to have what you want to give away. After His baptism, the Spirit descends upon Jesus and God pronounces, “You are my Son”.

These are important words for Jesus to hear. From the Jordan River Jesus will go out into the wilderness for forty days. Jesus will need these words and the presence of the Holy Spirit as He is tested over and over by the devil. The echoes of “You are my Son” we’re important reminders for Jesus during these forty days. Over and over Satan will ask, “If you are the Son of God…”. Satan tested Jesus to see if He really was ready to be the Son of God.

In Jesus’ baptism and in our baptism, there is a closeness to God that we begin to experience. We too receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when we enter into the family of God at our baptism. In baptism, we are marked as a son or daughter of God. Based on that, it should come as no surprise that we too are tempted and tested with our own times in the wilderness. We face trial and temptation in our lives. It is Satan’s way of asking us the same question:. If you are a son of God… If you are a daughter of God… When we hear the voice of the great deceiver, may we too quickly the voice of God, claiming us as a daughter or as a son. God loves us. Over and over God says, “You are my daughter”, “You are my son”. May we claim this always. Draw near to God. Satan will flee.

Prayer: Precious God, thank you for claiming me as your child at my baptism. Daily remind me of my personal connection through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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A Woman and a Foreigner

Reading: Ruth 4: 13-16

Verse 15: “For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth”.

Our nice story continues. The woman who left her homeland to be with her mother-in-law has found a husband. Ruth and Naomi, the two widows, have found happiness and security. It gets even better as Ruth gives birth to a son. Naomi is a grandmother!

As the women gather around to gawk at the baby and to celebrate with Naomi, they make a profound statement. They note the blessings that Ruth has been and will continue be to Naomi: “For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth”. This is quite the statement. It is quite an acknowledgement to Ruth. Sons were valued much more than daughters. Sons were labor. Sons got the inheritance. Sons carried on the family name and the family business. Women were clearly seen as inferior. Yet these women recognize Ruth as being better than seven sons!

On top of this gender reversal, Ruth is also a foreigner. In a nation that often prohibited foreign wives and who usually viewed themselves as isolationists, Ruth is viewed as a great blessing. Ruth did not bring with her the religion of her youth but has instead become a part of God’s family. The quality of the person far overshadows the normal tendency against outsiders. As our passage concludes, the story gets even better.

The child Ruth bears is a boy. That is good news. But the best news is the lineage. The boy is Obed. His son will be Jesse. One of Jesse’s sons will be a Shepherd named David. David will become Israel’s greatest king for the longest time. Then, generations later, a forever king will be born. From the line of Ruth, the Savior will be born in the city of David. Ruth’s name will be found in the list of Jesus’ relatives. A woman and a foreigner – imagine that!

Lord, thank you for the awesome example of Ruth. She placed love and devotion to another far above her own wants and desires. Help me to be a humble servant each day, loving you and others more than myself. Amen.


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Redemption

Reading: Ruth 3: 1-5

Verse 1: “My daughter, should I not try and find a home for you, where you will be provided for”?

Our passage today opens with Naomi expressing concern for Ruth. Naomi says to Ruth, “My daughter, should I not try and find a home for you, where you will be provided for”? Ruth has shown deep dedication to Naomi, leaving her own land to follow Naomi home to Israel so that she can care for and provide for her. Both are widows when they arrive in Israel. Naomi realizes that Ruth is young enough to remarry and knows that this would bring security to her future. Based upon her past actions and loyalty, Naomi probably felt assured that Ruth would continue to care for her.

Boaz, the man Naomi identifies as a good potential husband, is family. There is family there with closer ties, but Boaz has demonstrated kindness and good character towards Ruth already. They first met when Ruth was gleaning in his fields along with his servant girls. He shows her favor and is familiar with her story. Naomi identifies Boaz as a “kinsman redeemer” – a term for a relative who rescues a family member from trouble or a difficult situation. His invitation to continue to work in his fields and the instructions to his men to leave extra stalks for her indicate that he is stepping into this role.

Naomi suggests that Ruth go to and lie down at Boaz’s feet. She lies in the this place as a sign of respect. Servants would often sleep at the feet of their master. Uncovering his feet was also cultural and symbolic. In doing so, Ruth let Boaz know that she was there and she was using the customs of the day to nonverbally ask him to share his coverings with her. Culturally this was a right that the servants had. Symbolically she was asking him to provide for her. Boaz would go on to redeem her as his wife.

In our passage Ruth continues to show love for Naomi through her obedience. She also trusted that God would continue to guide and bless her. Ruth’s faithfulness to both God and her family are models that we can follow. In doing so, she finds redemption. She is restored to new life. This day, may we take the opportunities that God provides to offer love and care to the other, opening their eyes to the redemption that God offers to all.

Lord, may Ruth’s model of love and care be my way of living too. Help me to open others eyes to the redemption that you offer. Amen.


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Unwavering Love

Reading: Mark 7: 24-30

Verse 29: “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter”.

Jesus has left Galilee and enters into a non-Jewish region. It appears to be an intentional choice as our passage tells us that He “did not want anyone to know it”. His little get-away is soon discovered and a woman from the regions appears, seeking healing for her daughter.

People today often seek ways to make things better. Sometimes they go someplace else where the chances or circumstances at least appear better. People from all over the world, for example, come to America for a better life. Sometimes people go to a place where the reputation is excellent. For example, lots of people go to the nearby Mayo Clinic for treatment of difficult or complex medical issues.

Even though Jesus is in a “foreign land”, apparently His reputation for being a healer is known there too. A local woman comes to Jesus because her daughter is possessed by demons. She is seeking healing. Jesus gives her a version of “I’m on vacation”. It is also indicative of His focus on the lost sheep of Israel. The situation reminds me of parents with sick children going to the doctor without an appointment, insistent on their child being seen anyway. If the situation is bad enough, they will sit there and wait for an “opening”. In essence, they are saying they will sit there until the child is seen by the doctor.

Jesus tries to dismiss her. The woman ignores the “dog” slight and says, ‘But, yes, Jesus even we may have a little of you. Even us dogs might catch a crumb or two that happens to slip off the table. Yes, Jesus, maybe we can have a little healing too”. She demonstrates that, yes, she will sit there all day, just waiting for a crumb or two to fall. Jesus is impressed – maybe with her faith, maybe with her persistence – but definitely with her love for her daughter.

Lord, in this woman I see unwavering love. In Jesus’ response, I see love given to love. May I too have unwavering love as my guide, following Jesus and His Spirit as I seek to be light and love in the world. Amen.