pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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#1 Tradition

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-28

Verse 18: The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’.

Every year for Christmas my family gathers after church on Christmas Eve and we open one present.  The present is always the same: new pajamas.  For Thanksgiving every year we always have green bean casserole and chocolate chess pie.  It feels like we have been doing these things forever.

Our churches also have traditions.  Most churches do.  In today’s passage, Jesus is addressing one of these traditions.  It began like many of our church traditions did and has become almost law by this point.  One day long ago someone started something and soon enough it became tradition.  For the Pharisees that Jesus is addressing, these traditions were very important.  Many of their traditions or laws were based on generations of interpretations of the Bible.  Much of it therefore had come not necessarily straight from God but from man’s interpretation of the Word.  A good, modern day example would be baptism.  In the Bible we do have some examples of baptisms and some understandings of what it means and why one is baptized.  But there is no place in the Bible where it defines exactly how and when a baptism should occur.  Yet this topic causes division and differences and barriers between us.  The same can be said of communion.  I think this makes Jesus sad.

In today’s passage Jesus is dealing with a rule that creates a barrier.  Many of the religious traditions or laws created barriers to people because they kept people away from God.  Ritualistic and detailed handwashing became the rule for the Pharisees.  Eat without perfectly pristine hands and you know what happens…  But Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean'”.  He is saying that what is in a person’s heart is what makes them spiritually clean or unclean, not the condition of their hands.  If evil resides in our hearts, then we are unclean spiritually.  If good resides, then we are clean.  To Jesus, a person’s heart is what mattered.

Jesus’ most important question is: “Do you love me”?  For Jesus love was always the guide and the first consideration.  That’s why He ate with unclean sinners and why he healed on the Sabbath.  Love triumphed.  Faith is not about the tradition or the laws or the unwritten rules.  It is about letting love lead and serving and ministering to others in love.

What traditions or ‘rules’ create barriers in our churches?  How do we make love the #1 tradition or the rule?


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Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse Three: There the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore.

Unity is fragile and something we must be aware of and be willing to work to maintain.  In this sense, unity is a mindset.  It is something either we value and are willing to give effort towards or it is not.  Unity and the desire to have unity are fueled by love and faith.  As unity is something that can be broken easily, we need to recognize that our humanity makes unity hard to maintain.  This difficulty grows with each person or group added to the mix.

Within our families, unity is driven most by love.  We want those we love to be happy and cared for and content.  Yet every once in a while we do or say something selfish or in anger and unity is temporarily lost.  As our desire for unity is driven by love, we quickly work to restore it.  We apologize or we correct the wrong and receive forgiveness.

But as the circle grows, unity becomes increasingly harder.  Other people and groups we are not a part of have differing thoughts, interests, and opinions.  At times these seem to be in contrast to our thoughts, interests, and opinions.  If we truly see all as dearly loved by God and all as worthy of our love as well, then we must begin to seek to understand those who are not just like us.  It is only when we stop and listen to the other that we can begin to find some common ground.  This common ground allows us then to speak the truth in love.  We must be careful here – the truth is God’s truth in love, not our truth in love.  From here we must be willing to seek a way forward.  We must be open to envisioning the way forward as God envisions the way forward and we must allow God to lead.  For our part, we must live into God’s plan.

Over all of this is love and forgiveness.  Recognizing our own humanity, we should be ready to offer love and forgiveness in heaps.  Unity is how God designed creation and how He intends the world to be.  “There the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore”.


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Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse One: How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

The Psalm for today is written to a community.  It may be to a specific congregation or group of people or it may be to all the Israelites.  It is believed that at the time of the writing, the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms and the psalmist wrote this Psalm to try and help unite the two kingdoms.

Whether it is a sports team or a book club, a family or an office staff, a congregation or a nation, the goal and hope is always unity and peace.  Our Psalm today opens with “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity”!  This is indeed true!  Unity and peace are signs of love and togetherness.  The image of oil being poured out in the Psalm represents God’s blessings being poured down.  The dew represents well-being and is also a connection to God’s blessings.  It is God’s plan and intent for creation to get along – from the two friends to the couple to the family to the neighbors to the community to the nation to the world.  To live in peace and unity and love and harmony is God’s intent.  If we all loved neighbor as Jesus first loved us then God’s intent would be our reality.

Although this is God’s intent, there is no shortage of conflict in our lives and world.  Much of it is interpersonal.  Society’s bent towards individualism and self-gratification pits one against another in the battle for power and status and wealth.  In the larger society there is much tension between groups of people as well as between nations.  One only has to look at Charlottesville and North Korea to see the seeds of hatred and bigotry and mistrust and evil.

If God’s intent is unity, as followers of Jesus Christ, what is our role to play in bringing unity to our world?  It begins by loving all we meet as Christ loves us.  Loving and seeing as Jesus loved and saw leads us to stand up for what is right, to stand against what is wrong, and to seek to bring peace and justice and unity and love into all situations we find ourselves in.  We are to be the light and love.  We are to bring peace and hope.  May it begin in our hearts, in our homes, in our churches, and in our worlds.


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Surrender

Reading: Genesis 45: 1-15

Verse 15: He kissed all his brothers and wept over them.

Joseph could have easily lashed out at his brothers from his position of power or he could have sought revenge.  But the bond of family and the influence of God in his life lead him to seek reconciliation instead.  Living in a foreign land without any true family had to be hard.  Even though he had been through his share of trials, Joseph had come to have a very good life.  Yet he was alone and missed his family – especially his father.

Joseph clears the room of all his attendants and court officials for two reasons.  One is so that he can be open and honest with his brothers.  Yet even the removal of everyone else does not keep the time private.  Joseph is so overcome with emotion that the officials hear his weeping and report it to Pharaoh.  The second reason is to surrender his position of power so that his brothers can draw near to him.  It is close and personal – something that would never happen in the official court setting.

Joseph seeks to be reunited and reconciled with his family.  It begins with him reaching out, surrendering his power, making the first move simply as their brother.  To repair a broken relationship someone has to make the first move.  It also requires the other party to accept the offer of reconciliation and to respond accordingly.  Both sides must be willing to let go of the past – whatever caused the separation and brokenness – and to begin to love again.  In the end, “He kissed all his brothers and wept over them”.  Then they talked.

On our faith journey, we go through cycles of reconciliation.  We sin and break our relationship with God.  Sin separates us.  Then in an act of love and surrender of self we repent and ask for forgiveness.  In His great love and mercy, God offers us grace and our sin is forgiven.  We are once again reunited with the God we love until we stumble again and then we repeat the process.  Joseph had to become less to meet his brothers again.  We too must surrender some more of ourselves each time we say we are sorry and repent and commit to a closer walk with Jesus.  Each day, may we become less and He becomes more.


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Healing and Wholeness

Reading: Genesis 45: 1-15

Verse Four: I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt.

Joseph is at a good place in his life.  He has gone through some difficult experiences but has had a sense of God’s guidance and presence during his time in Egypt.  The old hurts and scars are a thing of the past.  And then his brothers suddenly appear before him, begging to buy food.  Oh how the tables have turned!  All that distant hurt and anger must have come rushing back for Joseph.  In the text we see that this is right where his brothers go – terrified in his presence because they too remember what all they did to him.

In life we experience hurts and offenses.  We all have been let go by an employer or have been dumped by one we love or have been cast aside for a cooler or better connected friend.  More often than not we absorb the hurt and over time it lessens and we come to a new place of peace and contentment as we allow God to heal and love us.  We see that God has continued to be at work in our lives, bringing us a new job or a new significant other or a new best friend.  And then our old boss comes looking for a job or the ex shows up with regrets over their choice or the old friend comes looking for your help.  Thanks feelings come rushing back and it is hard to be loving and caring and to act as Jesus calls us to act.

Joseph exclaims, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt”. It is not, ‘I am in charge now!’ or ‘Get out!’ or anything else harsh or negative.  It is love and mercy and reconciliation that Joseph offers.  He knows that God has been with him and will continue to be with him.  He chooses to let go of the past and to embrace a future with God leading and guiding.  When we are faced with the choice to love or to seek revenge, may we also find a way guided by God’s love, bringing healing and wholeness to what was broken.


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Look to the Lord

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6 and 16-22 and 45

Verse Four: Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.

Psalm 105 is a summary of Israel’s early history.  The opening lines are a call to give thanks and praise to God for all He has done for the people.  The story told in Psalm 105 is not necessarily pretty all the time.  There were times of slavery and abuse and hardship.  There was famine and hunger.  Normally we do like stories with some conflict in them because they keep our attention.  But why would the psalmist tell a story that had abuse and slavery and hunger in it?

Yes, it is the truth and, yes, it helps the Israelite people remember their history. But even more importantly, it reminds them of God’s presence.  For the Israelites, the chosen people, these stories represent the times God stepped forward and acted on their behalf – ending the famine, parting the sea, performing the miracles.  These stories remind the people of God’s love and care for them and they provide hope and promise for the future.

We have similar experiences with God in our lives.  We have events and situations where there was conflict or hardship or trial.  In these times we also have experienced God’s presence as He provided a way or brought us that peace beyond understanding or gave us the strength and courage to slay our giant.  Sometimes, though, we are hesitant to tell these stories because they show our imperfections or our struggles or our failures.  We do not always like to share these aspects of who we are.  Yet we need to share our stories of what God has done in our lives.  Just as the Exodus stories gave the Israelites hope and reminded them of God’s presence and promises, so too can our stories of when God came near give hope and promise to those we meet.  It is through the sharing of these stories and the impact they had on our faith and lives that we can help others to understand and practice the words of the psalmist: “Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always”.


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Love and Justice and Mercy

Reading: Genesis 37: 1-4 and 12-28

Verse Four: They hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

Joseph is clearly the father’s favorite.  Israel loves Joseph more than any of his other sons.  In today’s passage, Israel makes Joseph a “richly ornamented robe”.  For a second, recall Joseph and his dreams of his brothers and even his father and mother bowing down to him.  For a second, recall Joseph’s penchant for tattling on his brothers.  Now Joseph waltzes in, showing off his new coat.  Joseph certainly plays up his favored son status.  His brother’s reaction?  “They hated him and could not speak a kind word to him”.

Later in our passage, Israel decides to send Joseph out to check on the others sons and the flocks.  He tells Joseph to “bring word back to me”.  As the brothers see Joseph coming, they plot to kill him.  In our society today, does this still happen?  Do some who live without look at those who have much with hatred and envy?  Thanks without may desire to do away with the ones with privilege and power, especially the ones who flaunt it.  So, when we go to the city to serve in the rescue mission, do those in line look at us this way?  If we act as if we are stooping down to do something ‘good’ or if we act aloof, certainly we are seen this way.  If we are unwilling to sit and hear another’s story, to communicate that they are worthy of our time and attention, then we remain distant and privileged.

Reuben speaks up for Joseph and plans to come back later to rescue him.  When violence and injustice and hatred arise today, do we act as Reuben acted?  Do we try and lessen it and plan on coming back later to partially address the situation?  Or do we stand up for what is righteous and choose to stand in the gap, saying ‘no more’?  At times we will see prejudice or hatred, injustice or abuse.  Then and there, do we addresd it fully?  Do we stand for those in need of our voice and courage?  Do we love and care for all as God loves and cares for all?  Or do we leave them in the cistern and hope to come back later?

O God of love and justice and mercy, make me an instrument of Your love and justice and mercy.