pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Would you…?

Reading: Mark 3: 1-6

Verse Four: “Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill'”?

Today’s passage has three perspectives. Let’s begin with the man. The man with the shriveled hand is most likely a beggar – relying on the charity of others to eat, to have clothing, etc. To go out to find Jesus might take days. This would cost him and he would likely not eat those days. But now, right here in the temple, he has found the healer, Jesus. Jew or not, he wants healing more than to observe the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is important to the Pharisees. They “watched him closely” to see if Jesus would somehow sin, breaking a Sabbath or temple law. They see Jesus as a challenge to their authority and to their place in life. The Pharisees are also the keepers of about all that the Jews have left as the people of God. The Romans have allowed temple worship to continue. As a people living under an occupying army, religious practices and traditions are about all you have left to hold your people together. It is all that keeps them a community. These two factors combine to give the Pharisees “stubborn hearts”.

Jesus is the third yet central character in our passage. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath and He sees the man. You just know that Jesus is filled with compassion for the man. So He asks him to stand up. Everyone look at this man. Then Jesus asks the Pharisees, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill”? Even though this is the Sabbath – the day to honor God with worship and to do no work – what do we do with this man? For the man and Jesus there is only one correct answer. To the Pharisees, though, neither answer is acceptable. Answer one way and they are saying the Sabbath has no value. Answer the other way and they are saying the man has no value. It is a no-win situation for the Pharisees, so they remain silent.

Would you buy that cake for your child’s birthday with your last $20 or would you pay for the groceries for that single mom in front of you in line without enough? Would you be on time for that super important meeting or would you stop and help that elderly lady change her flat tire? We often stand in the Pharisees shoes – how do we decide between two goods? As Jesus did, may we choose the better good, always valuing relationship over to institution.

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Very Nice Folks

Reading: Mark 2: 23-28

Verse 27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”.

The Pharisees lived by a lot of rules. The many, many rules had become their way of life and their religion. Following the rules had even obscured their common sense. They were rule followers instead of God followers. This concept is sometimes seen in our churches today.

Jesus’ disciples are walking along and they are hungry. They pick a few heads of grain to snack on. To us this does not seem to serious, but the Pharisees asks, “Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath”? You see, picking grain was work and work is illegal on the Sabbath. It does not matter if they were hungry. It wouldn’t even have mattered to the rule followers if the disciples were starving to death. It does not matter. They should have planned ahead – they know when the Sabbath is!

Jesus takes this in and responds thusly, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. He is saying to look beyond the rule so they can see the need. Look past being rule followers and become God followers. Have compassion. Show mercy. Extend love. But these are hard choices because this goes against the rules. Sometimes we see this in our churches too.

On Sunday mornings we are a pretty homogeneous bunch. On the last Sunday evening each month, we offer a free community meal. There is not a lot of homelessness in the community, but there is some poverty. Last night we had a struggling family come to the meal. Really nice folks – husband and wife and six young kids, plus Grandma in tow. Kids had big smiles on their faces and I had a nice chat with Mom and Dad. Very nice folks.

As I consider the Sabbath rules that caused so much tension in today’s passage, I wonder how things would go if this family showed up next Sunday morning at 9:00 for worship. Sometimes we can allow rules to get in the way of love and compassion and empathy. Sometimes we can be rule followers instead of Jesus followers. Sometimes it is hard. I hope these very nice folks come this Sunday morning. It is good for us to practice being Jesus followers. Sometimes what we practice becomes what we are. Very nice folks, hope to see you this Sunday morning!


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Well Known

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse One: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

There is a reason Psalm 23 is the most well-known Psalm of the 150 we find in the Old Testament. It is realistic in its look at our relationship with God. The writer is not being beseiged on all sides or being slandered by a host of evil doers. The psalmist is not lamenting multiple personal losses nor has he committed a string of sins. It is simple and straight forward. Reading or praying through the Psalm brings reassurance and comfort. It acknowledges our dependence and reliance on God. Like many passages in the Bible, it is the ideal. It is not always our reality.

Verse one begins the Psalm. It reads, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”. If we trust fully in God and His blessings in our lives, we will not want. This is the ideal. But the reality is that the voice of the world tells us we need more and newer and better. Therefore it is a battle to be content. God does desire to lead us “beside still waters” but that incessant voice of the world says to do more, to climb higher, to indulge in life. God calls us to times of Sabbath and rest as a part of our normal routine. It is there that we reconnect with God.

God wants us to walk “paths of righteousness” and most of the time I believe we do. Occasionally we stumble into sin but the Holy Spirit is quick to realign us to God’s will. Thank you Holy Spirit. In life, at times we will experience loss and trial – the valleys – but God always remains present, bringing us comfort. Knowing that God will be there in both the present trial and in each that comes allows us to have no fear.

Verses five and six are about God blessing us. Our cup usually is full and even runs down all around us at times. Maybe it is because we are content and trust in God that it seems like our cup overflows. Or maybe it just does. Indeed, goodness and love pour out from God so it feels as if they were always following us. His love and goodness are just always there. Because of God’s love and grace, we can dwell with Him forever. It is a beautiful place to be. Thanks be to God for His Word that blessed and encourages us. Amen.


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A Day of Quiet and Reflection

Reading: Matthew 27: 57-66

Verse 59: “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock”.

Today is a hard day for the followers of Jesus. It is a day of waiting. We read today of a brave man named Joseph who wanted to care for Jesus’ body at the end of the day Friday. He did not want the body left on the cross on the Sabbath. So Joseph gets permission from Pilate to place Jesus’ body in his own tomb. We read, “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock”. In John’s gospel we are told that Joseph had a helper. In John 19:39 we read that Nicodemus, the one who secretly visited Jesus at night, helps Joseph. A seed planted by Jesus has obviously been at work in Nicodemus.

Also present are two of the women who were regularly in the group that followed and cared for Jesus. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joses “were sitting there opposite the tomb”. They are present maybe for a couple of reasons. One is practical. The placing of Jesus’ body in the tomb was quick and temporary. The women intended to return after observing the Sabbath to properly care for Jesus’ body with the usual spices. They were also present to mourn and grieve. To be physically near the one who has just passed is something that can bring some peace and comfort. In these moments, what else can one do?

This day has traditionally been a day of waiting. For Christians, we know what happens tomorrow – the grave is empty! Today we wait with anticipation and excitement. But, for Jesus’ followers, this day is a day of mourning and a lot of “now what” questions. It is a day of stillness and quiet. It is a day of confusion and discomfort. We have all been through the day after losing someonene dear. We all know the emotions and the thoughts that run through our hearts and minds. We know just what Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and all of Jesus’ followers felt that day.

Today, may we too enter the stillness and the emotions of what it would be like to not have Jesus’ presence. In the stillness may we connect to the women outside the tomb. In the consideration of not living in His presence may we come to rejoice in the glory of living daily with the power and presence of the risen Christ. Today us a day of quiet and reflection. For us there is no sadness, for we know that Easter is coming. Hallelujah and amen!


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Deep Personal Relationship

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-11

Verse One: “I am the Lord your God”.

The Ten Commandments are all about relationship. Initial glances may lead us to think they are about behavior. They are only to the degree that our behaviors influence our relationships. Today’s passage covers the first four commandments. These four deal with our relationship with God. They also reveal much about who God is and what God desires from us.

Our passage opens with a reminder: “I am the Lord your God”. This is a fact. It conveys authority. The first commandment flows out of this place: no other gods before God. God is to be the one thing we worship, the one we look to for all we need, the one who provides and guides. This exclusivity leads into the second commandment: no idols. Initially we think of little statues carved from wood or stone. But this commandment is so much bigger than that. In this way it ties back into the first. We can have many other gods in our lives. God knew this would be a struggle. Our biggest idol is often self. Most of our other idols in some way elevate our own wants and desires above God’s will for our life. In addition to self, our other gods can be power, possessions, control, pride, time, … and these can quickly become idols – things we worship or pursue or place ahead of our one true God.

The third commandment prohibits the misuse of God’s name. With this commandment we typically think of cursing. It is this but it is more. It can be using God’s name to try and help ourselves. It can be selfish prayers. Misuse can also be failure to use. Sometimes we fail to turn to God when we should. Sometimes we do not come to God in prayer, calling on His Almighty name. In this light, the third leads to the fourth.

The fourth commandment is to keep the Sabbath holy. God calls us to mirror what He did in creating the world. God knows our need for rest and to have a day set aside to worship God. All of this is good and well, but this commandment ultimately asks if we trust God. Can we stop the drive to succeed, the need to work, the want for “me time”, and such to simply rest and trust in God? Can we rest in Him, trusting that God has our back?

“I am the Lord your God”. He is indeed. He desires an exclusive, intimate relationship with each of us. May all we do and say and think this day reflect our deep personal relationship with God.


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Rest

Reading: Genesis 1:31 – 2:4a

Verse Three: God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it He rested.

As human beings and as children of God, we are created in the image of God.  We are to model the patterns that God sets in the Bible.  We try to follow the examples that Jesus, God in the flesh, set for us in the Gospels.  In our day to day lives we try to love as Jesus loved as we seek to follow His example of ministry.  Hard as it may be to live as Jesus lived, often times we are better at this than we are at following today’s model for our lives.

After spending six days creating the world, God looks over His “very good” work.  He is pleased with what He has created.  We are pretty good at modeling these two parts of today’s passage.  We are good at working and producing and making.  At times we can even be pleased with our labors and can take pride in what we have accomplished.  Clearly we can see in this passage, and throughout the Bible, that we are created to work, to use our bodies and minds in labor.  We are also called throughout Scripture to give our very best in all we do, so our labors should produce things, ideas, … that are also “very good”.

“God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it He rested”.  The Sabbath, or seventh day, is holy because on this day God rested.  This is the model we find hard to follow.  We often are just as bad at taking rest as we are good at always working.  To work and work and work some more is how we respond to our culture of ‘more’ and how we try to attain ‘success’ as defined by the secular world.  It is a sad treadmill that​ we too easily climb onto.  The treadmill never leads to a destination but simply keeps on churning.  The world is happy to allow us to work and work and work.  But we are created in God’s image.  On the seventh day God made it holy and He rested.  In rest we are renewed and refreshed and recharged.  In rest we are drawn closer to God.  May we each find our Sabbath this week – our time and place of rest where God can minister to us.


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Sabbath Honor

Reading: Luke 13: 14-17

Laws are important.  Imagine for a moment living in a society that had no laws.  It is a frightening image.  In reality, all groups, societies, and cultures have laws or norms that they live by.  Even a band of thieves has some norms that govern life within that group.  Civil societies have many laws that govern behavior and establish order.  The purpose of laws is to protect us, to keep us safe, and help the community function.  And although the law is the law, there are times we see the law as optional or as flexible.  For example, we may walk across a street somewhere other than the crosswalk or we may drive a bit over the speed limit.  Other laws seem to be more absolute.  Election laws are followed precisely and none would ever condone breaking the laws against child abuse.

For the synagogue ruler in today’s reading and for other religious authorities in Jesus’ day, all of the law was absolute.  Keeping every letter of the law is what separated them from and elevated them about the rest of society.  Consequently, they held the view that if you break one letter of the law, you break the whole law.  Jesus grew up a practicing Jew.  He understood and knew the law.  He also understood that at times, as was the case today, that God’s law will at times trump man’s laws.

Jesus chooses to heal a woman on the Sabbath.  Jesus knew the laws against working on the Sabbath.  He also knew that almost everyone there had tended to the animals or the children or …  Jesus knew that the religious authorities had so defined the Sabbath through a myriad of laws that keeping all of the laws had superceded actually honoring God on the Sabbath.  They had lost sight of the day being about resting in God.  The leaders were so caught up in the laws that there was little time left to honor and worship God.  The laws had become the focus.  Lost was the renewing of the mind, body, and spirit that comes from a whole day dedicated to God.

On the Sabbath Jesus sees a women who needs mind, body, and spirit renewed.  She has been captive to her infirmity for many long years.  So Jesus frees her.  He heals her so that she can fully worship God, which she does immediately.  Instead of keeping the whole of the Sabbath law, Jesus instead chooses to honor the Sabbath by following one of God’s ultimate laws – love your neighbor.  Healing this woman was not work.  It brought honor to God.  It restored a child of God to wholeness.  May all we do this Sabbath day bring honor and glory to God.