Hope in God, I Will Yet Praise Him

Luke 8:23-39 & Psalm 42-32

Frayed nerves; adrenaline still pumping in their veins. The disciples are recovering from the harrowing experience of a near death experience at sea.  The picture Luke draws is of strong winds whipping up high waves and their boat being swamped to the point of sinking.  And Jesus is asleep.  Picture the boat being tossed like a cork in a washing machine.  The wild-eyed disciples are soaked to the bone and terrified. They huddle down gripping the edges of the boat to hang on.  And Jesus is sound asleep.  

Luke writes his gospel with the purpose of helping to know and understand the wonderful power of love of Jesus.  Luke wants to grip our imagination, grab our hearts as well as instruct our minds.  

The storm is intense.  The disciples are in fear of drowning at sea.  They shout at Jesus, wake Him up.  “Master, Master, we are perishing!”  Jesus awakes, stands up in the rocking boat and commands the wind and waves to cease.  Just like that the wind stops and the sea is calm.  Jesus’ disciples are overwhelmed with wonder and awe.  

That is where our gospel reading for today picks up.  Put yourselves in the disciples place.  Soaked and frazzled, still getting over their thought that they were dying while Jesus slept.  The land their boat on the shores of a Gentile area called Gerasenes and are immediately met with a loud and scary naked wild man who rushes at them.  The man is not after them.  He has come to Jesus.  He is demon possessed, “out of his mind” and wild.  When Jesus asks the demon’s name it responds, “Legion.” Jesus commands the demons to leave the man.  They beg Him to not send them back into the abyss, but to let them enter the large herd of pigs nearby.  Jesus grants their request.  The huge herd runs pellmell down a steep slope into the lake.  They all drown.  

The men keeping the herd run away to the nearby town telling the owners and everyone else what has happened.  Soon a large crowd came to see for themselves.  The crazy man that no one could control is now sitting at Jesus’ feet, clothed and in his right mind—completely healed.  That, in itself is amazing!  Yet, the loss of all those animals was a huge financial loss.  They urged Jesus to leave.  

Jesus starts getting back into the boat to leave with His disciples and the man pleads with Jesus to let him go with Him too.  Jesus instead tells the man to go back home and tell everyone what great things God has done.  He does just that and fills the town and community with the news of what Jesus has done for him. 

It seems that Jesus came solely for the purpose of saving and healing this man.  And then encourages him to go back home—bloom where you are plantged—tell everyone what God has done for you!  And this man does just that, filling the town and countryside with the news of Jesus’ love and power!  

Luke’s purpose is to help us discover and encounter the power of Jesus in our hearts and lives as well.  I also imagine Luke hopes we will also tell everyone what God has done through Jesus!

The noted author, John Killinger, tells a powerful story about a man who is all-alone in a hotel room in Canada. The man is in a state of deep depression. He is so depressed that he can’t even bring himself to go downstairs to the restaurant to eat.

He is a powerful man usually the chairman of a large shipping company but at this moment, he is absolutely overwhelmed by the pressures and demands of life… and he lies there on a lonely hotel bed far from home wallowing in self-pity.

All of his life, he has been fastidious, worrying about everything, anxious and fretful, always fussing and stewing over every detail. And now, at mid-life, his anxiety has gotten the best of him, even to the extent that it is difficult for him to sleep and to eat.

He worries and broods and agonizes about everything, his business, his investments, his decisions, his family, his health, even, his dogs. Then, on this day in this Canadian hotel, he craters. He hits bottom. Filled with anxiety, completely immobilized, paralyzed by his emotional despair, unable to leave his room, lying on his bed, he moans out loud: “Life isn’t worth living this way, I wish I were dead!”

And then, he wonders, what God would think if he heard him talking this way. Speaking aloud again he says, “God, it’s a joke, isn’t it? Life is nothing but a joke.” Suddenly, it occurs to the man that this is the first time he’s talked to God since he was a little boy. He is silent for a moment and then he begins to pray. He describes it like this: “I just talked out loud about what a mess my life was in and how tired I was and how much I wanted things to be different in my life. And you know what happened next? A voice!! I heard a voice say, ‘It doesn’t have to be that way!’ That’s all.”

He went home and talked to his wife about what happened. He talked to his brother who is a minister and asked him: “Do you think it was God speaking to me?” The brother said: “Of course, because that is the message of God to you and everyone of us. That’s the message of the Bible. That’s why Jesus Christ came into the world to save us, to deliver us, to free us, to change us and to show us that ‘It doesn’t have to be that way.’ A few days later, the man called his brother and said, “You were right. It has really happened. I’ve done it. I’ve had a rebirth. I’m a new man. Christ has turned it around for me.”

The man’s circumstances do not change.  But he is changed. During the week, he often leaves his work-desk and goes to the church near his office. He sits there and prays. He says: “It clears my head. It reminds me of who I am and whose I am. Each time as I sit there in the Sanctuary, I think back to that day in that hotel room in Canada and how depressed and lonely and lost I felt and I hear that voice saying: It doesn’t have to be that way.’”

We take encouragement from stories like this.  We live in a world that seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse.  War and untold carnage and death in Ukraine.  Political chaos here in the states.  Shortages and climbing prices at the grocery store and gas station.  Covid is still ravaging our world.  And now we are facing the very real threat of recession.  

Dr. Russell Moore in his book, Adopted for Life of going to an orphanage in Russia as they were in the process of pursuing adoption. The silence from the nursery was eerie. The babies in the cribs never cried. Not because they never needed anything, but because they had learned that no one cared enough to answer. Children who are confident of the love of a caregiver cry. For the Christian, our lament, when taken to our Father in heaven, is proof of our relationship with God, our connection to a great Caregiver.  

Psalms 42 and 43, which are often understood to be meant as one psalm gives expression to our feelings of despair.  The psalmist gives honest expression of despair, but does not stop there!  They engage in “self-talk,” a very healthy form of prayer.  They pour out their complaint and then says I won’t give up on hope, or in trusting the goodness of God. Even in tough times the psalmist says I will still praise God!   “Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my help and my God.”

Application:

Don’t be afraid of letting God know how you feel!  Give yourself permission to lament.  Pour out your angst and chaotic emotions to God.  God will listen and care! But do not stop there.  Move on to hope and praise.  No problem is too big or tough for God…no storms at sea, no sinking boats no wild crazy people that scare us, or demons that we struggle with that overwhelm us. God can handle all that and us.  Jesus has us!  “Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my help and my God.”

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Spirit Breathed Words

Pentecost – June 5 2022

When we think of Pentecost we might think of the color red for fire or celebration.  We might think of wind, the sound of a mighty rushing wind as the gift of the Holy Spirit is restored and poured out upon or redeemed human race.  We might think of the “tongues of fire.”  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit broke through the language barrier that is part of our human condition.  Communication.  And communication challenges, difficulties, barriers.

There are many things that divide and separate us as humans.  That is not only a present day reality.  It is historic.  Read history and you find disagreements and division marks our existence.  

Learning how to listen and to speak with each other in a respectful way is a good goal.  The miracle of Pentecost takes the good news of Jesus’ love. demonstrated through the cross and empty tomb and plants it firmly into our lives.  Our call and goal as Christians in community and in this fallen world is to grab hold of that reality and live it out.  

The Day of Pentecost is fifty days after the resurrection, hence the name which is a transliteration of the Greek for “fiftieth.”  The disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem when “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the fish of a violent wind.  It filled entire house where they were sitting.”  

The theological significance is stupendous!  We are created to live in harmony and fellowship with God.  Sin broke that relationship.  

Back in Genesis when our human parents were escorted out of the Garden of Eden is was symbolic of our broken relationship God.  Unholy people cannot survive in the presence of our holy God.  Thus we were “taken out of the Garden of Eden.”  God’s presence was removed from within us.  

Jesus is God’s “plan of salvation” to restore our broken relationship with God through His shed blood on the cross.  The empty tomb proved the words, “it is finished,” to be reality.  Now the Holy Spirit was able to return to us and restore our broken relationship.  That return is symbolized by the sound of a violent rushing wind.  

Frank Laubach was a missionary to the Philippines from 1915 to the late 1950s.

There were few people who could read or write in the remote Philippine communities where Frank Laubach served, so he developed a simple literacy method that employed charts linking pictures with words and syllables. His instructional method was so effective that it was easily adapted into a worldwide system for teaching literacy.

When Frank Laubach’s mission funding was reduced, he couldn’t hire and train enough teachers to meet the needs of his community. His passion for teaching people to read the Bible did not allow him to quit. 

He told a local community leader about the problem. The leader replied that Laubach should encourage every new learner to teach someone else. They adopted the slogan “Each One Teach One,” and encouraged new learners to pass on their skills to others in their community. It didn’t take much encouragement because the new learners were so overjoyed and empowered by their newly acquired ability to read and write in their own language that they were passionate about sharing the gift of literacy with their friends and neighbors.

Since it was developed in the 1930s, Frank Laubach’s “Each One Teach One” system has been used to teach 60 million people around the world to read in their own language. Here is something you probably didn’t know: Frank Laubach is the only missionary in the United States to have a postage stamp issued in his honor.

What inspired Frank Laubach’s passion for missions? I think we can see his inspiration in a quote from his writings: “Every person we ever meet,” he wrote, “is God’s opportunity.” Think about that: “Every person we ever meet is God’s opportunity.” (1)

In World War II, sisters Corrie and Betsie ten Boom were imprisoned in the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany. Their only crime was protecting Jewish families from Nazi persecution. In the evenings, after the two sisters had finished their hard labors, in the prison camp, they led a worship service in the women’s barracks. The women knew that if the guards caught them worshiping together, they could be beaten  or even killed. Still, the sacrifice was worth it to them. They gathered around a Bible that someone had smuggled into the camp. They began each service by singing hymns so softly that they were almost in a whisper. And then Betsie or Corrie would open the smuggled Bible and begin reading it aloud.

There were women from various countries in the concentration camp. So how did these women of different nationalities and languages worship together? Corrie and Betsie read the Bible passage in their native Dutch language, then translated it into German. Then other women in the barracks translated the German words into French and Polish and Russian and Czech. In waves of whispers, the women ensured that every person in the barracks heard the word of God in her own language.

As Corrie would later write of these secret worship services, “They were little previews of heaven . . .” (2). Preview of heavens. Imagine that! Our recent readings from Revelation tell us John saw a “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). 

Joel says everyone will prophesy. Men and women, young and old, everyone! God isn’t just talking about those 120 believers who were there on the day of Pentecost. That prophecy includes you and me.

Don’t let the word “prophesy” scare you. Prophets are simply truth-tellers. We are chosen by God to share the message of God. A message of warning. A message of hope. But every prophet’s message is essentially the glorious and grace-filled message in verse 21 of our Bible passage today: “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That’s the message you and I need to share with our family and friends and neighbors and co-workers and random strangers and everyone. Share it with your words. Share it with your actions. Share it with your life.

A Franciscan friar from the 14th century once said, “There is little good in filling churches with people who go out exactly the same as they came in; the call of the Church is not to fill churches but to fill heaven.” (3) That is a great quote: “The call of the Church is not to fill churches but to fill heaven.” Also remember Frank Laubach’s quote: “Every person we ever meet is God’s opportunity.” 

What God-opportunities are right in front of you?

  1. ThisDaysThought.org https://thisdaysthought.org/favorite-quotations/; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Laubach; https://www.bu.edu/missiology/missionary-biography/l-m/laubach-frank-charles-1884-1970/; Each one teach one: a personal approach to literacy (Laubach Literacy Program), Paziuk, Lynda; Gamey, D Lark. Canadian Woman Studies; Downsview Vol. 14, Iss. 4,  (Fall 1994): pp. 95-97. https://www.proquest.com/openview/e83cfeee67500da403f06dbada8ea15c/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=44042
  2. “10 Amazing Things You Never Knew about Corrie Ten Boom” by Debbie McDaniel iBelieve Contributing Writer, June 29, 2016.
  3. Andrew of Perugia, ThisDaysThought.org, https://thisdaysthought.org/favorite-quotations/.

Changed and Empowered

Elim Lutheran Church, Ogden, UT May 29, 2022

Luke 24:44-53 & Acts 1:1-11. (Jesus’ Ascension)

It is probably safe to say that most of us have never had to hear the words, “abandon ship!”  Imagine the range of emotions we’d experience if we were onboard a ship when we are forced to do just that—abandon ship!

The sinking of the Titanic happened in April of 1912.  You may recall the excellent movie, “The Titanic” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.  You may also recall the band playing “Nearer My God to Thee” as the ship went down.

There are times when we feel as though the world is crashing in around us, that everything that could go wrong has gone wrong or will go wrong.  There are times when we want to “abandon ship” so-to-speak but cannot find the escape hatch.  

That is what amazes me about our readings today.  The disciples have experienced fear.  They watched Jesus die.  They experienced the jealousy and hatred of the ruling religious right.  They have heard that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and had even witnessed His being alive.  And they couldn’t wrap their heads around life being more powerful than death.  They are still struggling with doubt—read the verses immediately before our passage from Luke 24.  And now Jesus is getting ready to leave them again.  We would expect them to be sad and afraid.  We would expect them to feel abandoned and that life was again out of control.Yet, consider the last several verses of the Gospel of Luke.  As Jesus is carried into heaven and out of sight He blesses them and they worship Him.  They return to Jerusalem with great joy!  Let’s unpack that a bit.

Abandon ship.  Did you know that there are a few scientists that are telling us the day will come when we will have to abandon earth and find a new planet to live on. 

Stephen Hawking is the physicist-mathematician-cosmologist with longer alphabet soup credentials on his business card than any living human. One needs an advanced degree just to understand Hawking’s areas of research. He’s written many books, including the international best-selling A Brief History of Time. And whenever the boundaries of human potential are discussed, a sound bite from Hawking is a certainty. From human space flight to alien life to theoretical physics, Hawking taps out mind-blowing ideas.

He is telling us that if we don’t abandon earth we will face extinction as a human race.  Elon Musk is pushing for space exploration and travel to Mars for similar reasons.  Maybe space exploration is in our future.  

Our small band of timid disciples are no longer hiding in fear.  They are no longer thinking of escape at all costs.  Something has changed!  They are different! Changed.  Different.  

This change has not come about because the disciples were finally able to get ahold of themselves and make better choices.  This is not a change brought about by will power or human determination.  It is a God thing—God was working in their hearts and minds.  

Jesus tells them to “wait for the promise.”  He means wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon them.  They waited ten days from Jesus’ ascension into heaven for Pentecost—the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  

Jesus tells this small band of followers that everything written about Him needed to happen so that forgiveness and repentance could be proclaimed to all people.  It has happened just as it was foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament.  It happened just as Jesus Himself said it would.  And now the cross and resurrection are accomplished.  Jesus’ task on earth is completed.  Our salvation has been won.  Heaven is open.  Our broken relationship with God is restored and healed.  Our sin has been removed!  Jesus summarizes all that and is visibly taken up from them and disappears into the clouds.  

Can’t you imagine Jesus’ followers staring with mouths agape—their heads bent back as they stare in amazement.  Then two angels appear, telling them that this same Jesus will return again someday in the very same fashion at what we call, “the Second Coming.” 

They don’t feel abandoned.  They are overcoming their timidity and fear.  They could be sad that Jesus is leaving them and going back to heaven.  Instead they worship Jesus.  They return to Jerusalem with great joy!

Our reading from Acts, which many theologians understand as volume 2 of Luke’s Gospel, records that Jesus taught them about the kingdom of God for the period of forty days between His resurrection and ascension.  Now, as He gets them ready for His return to heaven they ask will He finally restore the kingdom to Israel.  In other words, isn’t it about time that God finally fix this broken mess of a world?!  If you cannot take us out of this mess, at least fix it—fix this broken world!

Jesus’ response, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority…” Jesus’ answer seems to be “not yet.” Don’t be clock watchers.  Focus on the task at hand.  You have work to do in building the kingdom.  This work of witnessing is not merely a human effort of telling others about the Good News of Jesus.  It is a spiritual work that the Holy Spirit empowers us for.  The book of Acts (the Acts of the Apostles) records how that small band of followers exploded with growth eventually filling the world with the news of God’s gift of salvation and life in Jesus.

God is in the people changing business.  He is changing me.  He is changing you.  He is transforming us and changing the world.  Even now.  Even in the midst of a violent, unjust war in Ukraine, even while so many families are morning the violent, non-sensical deaths of their children and loved ones—a cycle that does not seem to end.  A world that makes us cry out in anguish and frustration wanting to abandon ship. A world that makes us wonder where God is?  

God is in the mix. God is in you and me.  God is at work changing and transforming lives and building that kingdom of love, grace, hope, forgiveness and new life through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the power of God’s love in Jesus. 

The challenge is, will we yield to God’s working in us?  Will we resist evil by doing good?  Will we intentionally and deliberately turn from hatred, greed, power struggles and self preservation to being servants of love and grace?  

Our goal is not to abandon earth, but to fill the world with God’s love and the news of life and forgiveness in Jesus—proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all!  And it starts with our repentance and forgiveness as God’s forgiveness flows through us.  We are learning how to let go and forgive. We are Easter people, people of the resurrection, followers of Jesus who filled with God’s Spirit for the sake of the world!

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Easter Message 2022

Mercy in the Open Tomb 

In a cemetery in Hanover, Germany, there is a tomb which is known as the Geoffnetes Grab, or “opened grave.” It is the tomb of a noblewoman, Henriette von Ruling, who died in 1782. Her sepulcher is immense and constructed of heavy stone with a large and imposing tombstone resting on it. The stone bears an inscription written in German but translated as follows: “This tomb, bought for eternity, may never be opened.” Let me quote that inscription one more time. (Repeat.) 

In spite of this inscription, Frau Henriette’s strongly fortified tomb has, in fact, been opened. For shortly after her burial a birch tree germinated at the base slab of the monument and over the years grew larger and wider. Slowly but steadily the tree’s roots and trunk forced its way and raised the tombstone and opened the grave. So despite the claim of the inscription to never be opened, the tomb is now known as the “opened grave.” Its inscription forbidding entrance into the tomb speaks in vain above a yawning crypt. (See photos and information at: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Grave,_Hanover).

Jesus breathed His last (Matthew 27:50).  After ensuring Jesus was really dead, Pilate granted permission for Him to be buried.  Then the religious leaders asked to make sure no one would steal His body and pretend He had been raised from the dead.  Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb, with a heavy stone rolled in front to secure the entrance.  The governor’s seal was then placed on it and professional Roman solidiers were posted to keep it secure.  It was almost as if to say, “this tomb may never be opened!”  And that, it seems, was the end of the story.  

Yet early Sunday morning, the third day since Jesus’ crucifixion, a surprising and perplexing series of events took place.

A couple of women made their way to the tomb just as the sun was coming up over the horizon.  The word “suddenly” in our text is from the Greek, “idou,” which other translation’s render as “behold.”  Something stupendous was happening.  First there was a great earthquake.  Then an angel of the Lord came and tossed the stone aside and sat on it!  The guards who were just finishing a long boring night were suddenly terrified. They had no control over what was happening.  They were essentially useless!  

The women, too, were afraid.  But the angel spoke to them and assured them.  “Do not be afraid.  I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here.  He has been raised from the dead just like He told you.  Come, see where His body had been laid.  

The soldiers were surprised to say the least!

So were the women.  “They left the tomb with fear and great joy.” As they ran back—note they were running, not walking—Jesus met them and showed Himself alive as “exhibit A!”  Proof beyond doubt.  

The religious leaders were surprised and upset and paid the soldiers a pretty sum to not tell the truth.  Tell people His body was stolen!

Even the disciples were surprised.  They thought the women were telling stories of make believe due to grief and deep sorrow.  But eventually even they came around and believed that Jesus was alive!

Evil thought it had won the day.  Everyone knows that death is final.  But Jesus defeated death.  Jesus vanquished the grave.  

Unbelievable things happen.  The Exodus story is another example of the incredulous.  Pharoah gloats over his impending victory over the fleeing Hebrews. Exodus records: “The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’” (Exodus 15:9). Yet God works a surprise there too. 

The Apostle Peter declared to those who had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion: “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). 

Paul, in our reading from Romans 6 tells us that everyone who is baptized into Christ—and therefore united with Christ, placed inside Christ so to speak, shares in what Jesus did for us on the cross, the grave and the empty tomb.  His death is our death.  His burial, ours.  His resurrection also ours.  Paul tells us to believe it and act on it as true.  Reckon—consider it to be reality—that you died in Christ, were buried with Christ and now have new life in Christ.  Sometimes our experience argues with that.  We say that we are still lost and hopeless.  We crumble in guilt and shame.  Paul again reminds us to act on the new reality, and by acting on that new reality we can begin to experience it.  Then, little by little, we let go of the “stuff.” Little by little we step out of the shadows and into the sunlight of God’s love and grace.  There is indeed mercy in the empty tomb.  

We cannot explain how a caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly, but we can see it and verify that it is true.  Our tombs cannot hold us.  Our guilt and shame crumble before the power of God’s mercy and love through the cross and empty tomb. 

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

Palm Sunday HOPE

(mercy in palms)

Why are people acting so weird?  That is the title of an article in the Atlantic this past week by Olga Khazan.  Ms. Khazan writes about how stressed out we are, about substance abuse and gun sales spiking.  Isolation is changing us she says.  She writes about the parallel between our moral behavior and out social connections.  The less connected we are, the less moral we become.  “We are moral beings to the extent that we are social beings.”  That is evident when we have so many that say and act like “the rules do not apply to me.”

Stressed out.  Acting bazar. Caving into anger.  Examples are ample.  Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars; the couple returning from vacation at our SLC airport, the intoxicated husband killing his wife while she was securing their child in a car seat.  The horrific war crimes by Russia against Ukraine—hospitals and clinics bombed, a train station attacked with missiles. So many killed.  The pandemic, social unrest, stressed out medical workers, teachers, and law enforcement personnel.  We are culturally stressed out.  We are all feeling it.  

Olga goes on to say that rudeness is contagious.  When “we witness rudeness we are three times less likely to help someone.” Kindness, mercy, and hope are in short supply.  A doctor in Ukraine was being interviewed this past week about the impact of hospitals being bombed.  The journalist asked the effect of the bombings on people.  His reply was to the point—it destroys hope.  Hospitals are supposed to be places of healing, not death and destruction.

We need today’s message.  We need to refresh our memory of Palm Sunday and Holy Week’s importance.  

A poem by Benjamin E. Mays:

I only have a minute

Only sixty seconds in it

Didn’t seek it

Didn’t choose it

But it is up to me to use it

Just a little minute

But eternity is in it

Palm Sunday. Jesus rides a donkey that has never been ridden before and enters Jerusalem.  Verse 13 of John chapter 12 tells us that many people in Jerusalem “took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” Other accounts inform us that they spread these palm branches on the road before Jesus to honor Him (Matthew 21:8; Mark 11:8). 

So why palm branches? Almost two centuries before this event, palm branches had become associated with triumphal celebrations. In 164 B.C. palm branches were used to celebrate the rededication of the temple that had been occupied by enemies. The Jews had reclaimed their city and the Temple and rededicated the Temple with the waving of palm branches. And then in 141 B.C. the Jews celebrated victory over their enemies by honoring their liberator, Simon the Maccabee, with the waving of palm branches. Indeed, the palm branch became a symbol of Jewish nationalism in the centuries surrounding the ministry of Christ. Now as Jesus rides into Jerusalem, palm branches are used to signal the people’s hope and expectation that a new liberator has arrived.  They wanted Jesus to bring about freedom and “make Israel great again.” 

Wars and conquest are a part of our human history.  The victorious conquerors would enter their city to parades.  Our country celebrated the end of World War II much the same way.  Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem is markedly different.  He didn’t come in as a triumphant general surrounded by his conquering army.  He rode in as a humble servant.  Isaiah describes Him as “the suffering servant,” whom Bible prophecy foretold would be our (the world’s) Messiah. 

Instead of duking it out with physical enemies, Jesus took on evil, all evil—past, present, and future by yielding Himself to cross.  He put His fists down and let evil do its worst.  He surrendered Himself to public shame, a sham of a trial, the humility of death on the cross.  In our place. Picture this, all the evil of all the ages collectively focused on that one man and He withstood it all.  When evil had done its worst and exhausted itself, Jesus quietly whispers those three simple words that will ring out through eternity.  “It is finished.” Our redemption, the salvation of all was complete.

When Jesus rode that donkey into Jerusalem the crowds did not shout sounds of victory like praise God, or hail the king.  They shouted Hosanna—translated, “Lord save us!”  Yes, they hoped for physical deliverance.  Jesus gave them the better type of deliverance.  Salvation from fear, sin, death, and the devil (from all evil).  He saved us by dying in our place for us.  

Palms.  Palm Sunday.  Let this day remind us of the certainty of our hope in God. Take your palm.  Hold it.  Wave it back and forth! Look at it! Think of it as a symbol of hope, a symbol of healing and deliverance.  Jesus’ death on the victorious cross proves that love is more powerful than hate, hope than despair, forgiveness than all our sin and shame.  Because Jesus we can be people of hope that do not respond evil for evil, hurt for hurt.  

We can experience stress. We can be bummed out about all that is going on in our world.  We can be grieved and heartbroken about what is wrong in our lives.  But we do not have to be controlled or held captive by any of that.  Jesus makes all the difference.  We are people of God.  Because of Jesus and His life, death and resurrection the Spirit of God indwells us—lives in and through us.  God empowers us to rise about the stuff of life to live as people of hope who seize the day and utilize every minute for the sake of heaven and goodness and kindness and love.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Mercy in Relationships

Genesis 45:1-15

Ephesians 4:25-32

John 13:34-3

“We are all members of one another…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.”  Ephesians 4:25 & 32

Hanging Mobiles—several items connected together by string, balancing each other.  Touch or remove one piece and the entire mobile is affected.  We are all inter-connected.  What we do to one, affects us and all the others.  

A mother of 8 came home one afternoon from the grocery store and walked into her house and everything looked pretty much the same, though it was a little bit quieter than usual. She looked into the middle of the living room and 5 of her darlings were sitting around in a circle, exceedingly quiet, which is a danger sign for parents. She put down the groceries, walked a little closer and that’s when she realized that the children were playing with 5 of the cutest baby skunks you can imagine.

Mom was instantly terrified and she hollered, “Run children, run!” And they did. Each child grabbed a skunk and ran, in 5 different directions. Well, that was the wrong thing to do. Mom was scared so, she screamed louder and more frantically. Well, that scared the children so much, that they each clutched their skunk tighter. And you know what, “Skunks don’t like to be squeezed!”

Now and then we can all cause a stink!  We are all inter-related!

Joseph’s story.  A doting father, a spoiled son and jealous brothers.  The coat of many colors, intense jealousy and hatred; the desire and opportunity to “get even” and eliminate the cause of jealousy.  Rather than kill Joseph as they originally intended they sell him as a slave.  Joseph ends up as a house slave for a high ranking official in Egypt, Potiphar, captain of the guard.  Joseph’s troubles don’t end there.  He does well and is promoted and trusted until Mrs. Potiphar tries to seduce him.  Joseph resists, running out of the house leaving Potiphar’s wife holding his garment.  She lies about him and again Joseph’s life goes down the tube.  He is now a prisoner, but soon is in charge of the prison.  

Joseph spends years of neglect in prison and being forgotten. Yet through dream interpretation Joseph becomes a ruler in Egypt—second only to Pharaoh himself—and manages their countries resources through a seven year drought.

Joseph has had a hard life with lies, hatred and abuse.  He could have been angry and bitter.  He could have succumbed and died in prison as a “grumpy old man.”  Yet, somehow he rose above all that and learned how to make the best of bad situations.  He prospered and excelled because he did not let anger or bitterness control or ruin his life.  

How did he do that?  He saw the bigger picture of what God was doing and decided to be part of God’s plan rather than fight and resist.  

Life is not fair or easy.  Relationships are hard work.  Period.  There is evil in the world.  And the evil is not always out there, in others or caused by others.  Sometimes we are the ones causing the hurt and pain. We are not like Putin and so many others who cause unbelievable pain and suffering, but we do little things that pile up.  Selfish little acts.  Cutting words spoken carelessly.  Little actions aimed at taking care of ourselves without realizing how it hurts or harms someone else.  Joseph’s story illustrates that.  All three groups were wrong—a father playing favorites, a spoiled son gloating over being special, and the jealous rage of the brothers.  They all affected each other.  Yet the most damaging of all was holding on to the bitterness and anger caused by jealousy.  That is where Joseph, through years of suffering learned how to “let it go and let God” and by managing his emotions rather than letting his emotions ravage him he became a great leader and changed the course of history for the entire Hebrew (Jewish) nation.   

“You always hurt the ones you love, the ones you shouldn’t hurt at all…” Mills Brothers (1930’s)

The good news is that we do not have to give in to hurting and harming each other.  We can rise above all that.  Because of God’s love in Christ, and the Holy Spirit working in and through us we can “put away falsehood.”  We can stop giving into lying, cheating, and stealing.  We can learn how to be angry without letting that anger rule and control us.  The Apostle Paul says, “don’t give the devil a foothold in your life.”  Holding on to bitterness, anger, and grudges whether we feel we are right or not, hurts us and harms our relationships.  Negative feelings that we seem to cherish cause decay and rottenness.  

Stop rehearsing the hurts and harms others have caused you.  Don’t hold on to the bitterness.  Stop harboring anger.  Stop the wrangling and fighting.  That grieves the Holy Spirit who is working inside your heart and head to turn you away from such destructive and negative ways.  

Learn to be kind.  Learn to be patient.  Learn to be tenderhearted and forgiving.  Remember that God forgives you.  That is your motivation for letting go and forgiving others—even when you do not believe they deserve it.  We don’t deserve it either!  Let it go.  

The good news is that God promises forgiveness. God forgives our sins for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). God reconstructed our broken relationship by reconciling us to Himself through Jesus. Through the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord, he has forgiven our corruption and restored a right relationship to him. This is divine mercy. This is God’s grace. When we have sinned against others, when we are the source of corruption in the relationship, we confess our sins to God and to those we have wronged. We are assured that we are forgiven by God, and we seek the forgiveness of others.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Mercy in Relationships

Mercy in Relationships Lent 4 March 27, 2022 / bwk

Genesis 45:1-15

Ephesians 4:25-32

John 13:34-35

“We are all members of one another…be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.”  

Ephesians 4:25 & 32

Hanging Mobiles—several items connected together by string, balancing each other.  Touch or remove one piece and the entire mobile is affected.  We are all inter-connected.  What we do to one, affects us and all the others.  

A mother of 8 came home one afternoon from the grocery store and walked into her house and everything looked pretty much the same, though it was a little bit quieter than usual. She looked into the middle of the living room and 5 of her darlings were sitting around in a circle, exceedingly quiet, which is a danger sign for parents. She put down the groceries, walked a little closer and that’s when she realized that the children were playing with 5 of the cutest baby skunks you can imagine.

Mom was instantly terrified and she hollered, “Run children, run!” And they did. Each child grabbed a skunk and ran, in 5 different directions. Well, that was the wrong thing to do. Mom was scared so, she screamed louder and more frantically. Well, that scared the children so much, that they each clutched their skunk tighter. And you know what, “Skunks don’t like to be squeezed!”

Now and again we can all cause a stink! We are all inter-related!

Joseph’s story.  A doting father, a spoiled son and jealous brothers.  The coat of many colors, intense jealousy and hatred; the desire and opportunity to “get even” and eliminate the cause of jealousy.  Rather than kill Joseph as they originally intended they sell him as a slave.  Joseph ends up as a house slave for a high ranking official in Egypt, Potiphar, captain of the guard.  Joseph’s troubles don’t end there.  He does well and is promoted and trusted until Mrs. Potiphar tries to seduce him.  Joseph resists, running out of the house leaving Potiphar’s wife holding his garment.  She lies about him and again Joseph’s life goes down the tube.  He is now a prisoner, but soon is in charge of the prison.  

Joseph spends years of neglect in prison and being forgotten. Yet through dream interpretation Joseph becomes a ruler in Egypt—second only to Pharaoh himself—and manages their countries resources through a seven year drought.

Joseph has had a hard life with lies, hatred and abuse.  He could have been angry and bitter.  He could have succumbed and died in prison as a “grumpy old man.”  Yet, somehow he rose above all that and learned how to make the best of bad situations.  He prospered and excelled because he did not let anger or bitterness control or ruin his life.  

How did he do that?  He saw the bigger picture of what God was doing and decided to be part of God’s plan rather than fight and resist.  

Life is not fair or easy.  Relationships are hard work.  Period.  There is evil in the world.  And the evil is not always out there, in others or caused by others.  Sometimes we are the ones causing the hurt and pain. We are not like Putin and so many others who cause unbelievable pain and suffering, but we do little things that pile up.  Selfish little acts.  Cutting words spoken carelessly.  Little actions aimed at taking care of ourselves without realizing how it hurts or harms someone else.  Joseph’s story illustrates that.  All three groups were wrong—a father playing favorites, a spoiled son gloating over being special, and the jealous rage of the brothers.  They all affected each other.  Yet the most damaging of all was holding on to the bitterness and anger caused by jealousy.  That is where Joseph, through years of suffering learned how to “let it go and let God” and by managing his emotions rather than letting his emotions ravage him he became a great leader and changed the course of history for the entire Hebrew (Jewish) nation.   

“You always hurt the ones you love, the ones you shouldn’t hurt at all…” Mills Brothers (1930’s)

The good news is that we do not have to give in to hurting and harming each other.  We can rise above all that.  Because of God’s love in Christ, and the Holy Spirit working in and through us we can “put away falsehood.”  We can stop giving into lying, cheating, and stealing.  We can learn how to be angry without letting that anger rule and control us.  The Apostle Paul says, “don’t give the devil a foothold in your life.”  Holding on to bitterness, anger, and grudges whether we feel we are right or not, hurts us and harms our relationships.  Negative feelings that we seem to cherish cause decay and rottenness.  

Stop rehearsing the hurts and harms others have caused you.  Don’t hold on to the bitterness.  Stop harboring anger.  Stop the wrangling and fighting.  That grieves the Holy Spirit who is working inside your heart and head to turn you away from such destructive and negative ways.  

Learn to be kind.  Learn to be patient.  Learn to be tenderhearted and forgiving.  Remember that God forgives you.  That is your motivation for letting go and forgiving others—even when you do not believe they deserve it.  We don’t deserve it either!  Let it go.  

The good news is that God promises forgiveness. God forgives our sins for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). God reconstructed our broken relationship by reconciling us to Himself through Jesus. Through the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord, he has forgiven our corruption and restored a right relationship to him. This is divine mercy. This is God’s grace. When we have sinned against others, when we are the source of corruption in the relationship, we confess our sins to God and to those we have wronged. We are assured that we are forgiven by God, and we seek the forgiveness of others.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Mercy in Suffering

Numbers 21:4-9, 1 Peter 2:21-25 & Matthew 8:14-17

“…by His wounds you have been healed” 1 Peter 2:24

Benjamin Franklin once quipped that there are two certainties we all encounter—death and taxes. But I would add another certainty—suffering. We all face suffering in life! 

We seem to be on the downside of our pandemic.  We hope!  Yet six million people have died from it.  Many are suffering from long term covid which has a serious impact on health.  Russia, through Putin, is aggressively and brutally attacking Ukraine.  Their missiles and bombs indiscriminately aimed at hospitals, women and children, and civilians fleeing from the violence.  We are seeing history repeating itself yet again!  How many Syrians fled as homeless refugees.  How many times has this happened in our world.  And now we have over two million Ukrainian refugees fleeing from their homeland.  We are stressed out.  

But we do not need to go to Europe to look for suffering do we!  Disease, cancer and injury become our uninvited companions. Lost dreams and depression plague us.   

For the most part we can endure our own suffering.  It is the suffering of others, especially children, that bothers us. Famous voices such as Bertrand Russell and Steve Jobs regarded the reality of pain and sorrow to be the clinching argument against the idea of a loving God. But the Bible does not ignore the messy reality of the world. Nowhere does Christianity deny the existence of pain and suffering. Indeed, the Bible unequivocally declares that this is a fallen world, a broken planet.

Lent provides us with a new lens through which to view suffering. That is through the lens of God’s mercy. In it we see a God who entered into our suffering to bear our suffering and to bring healing to us.

Why is there suffering in the world?  We can say suffering is part of our existence on this side of heaven because of our fallen condition. God created the world without suffering. But then we rebelled against God’s perfect plan.  Our relationship with God was shattered. Our world has been broken ever since. 

The root problem is sin and its consequences.  Pain and suffering are symptoms, not the root cause. 

Philip Yancey quotes from the book Migrants, Sharecroppers and Mountaineers, in his book Where Is God When It Hurts © 1999. Zondervan, p. 222.  He shares the story of a poverty-stricken mother describes an incident in which her husband lost his temper at a preacher who was speaking on the topic of suffering in a church service:

“Then [my husband] did the worst thing he could do: he took the baby, Annie, and he held her right before his face, the minister’s, and he screamed and hollered at him … He told him that here was our little Annie, and she’s never been to the doctor, and the child is sick … and we’ve no money, not for Annie or the other ones or ourselves … Then he told the reverend he was like all the rest, making money off us, and he held our Annie as high as he could, right near the cross, and told God He’d better stop having the ministers speaking for Him, and He should come and see us Himself” 

This grief stricken father was angry about his suffering children and his inability to help them.  He puts words to our frustration and anger.  Why are there sick children, and why is there no money and little hope among so many?

Then he demanded that God come down and see for himself the suffering in this world. And that is exactly what God did. Jesus entered our broken world.  Jesus took on in His flesh and bones our brokenness and bore it physically to the cross.  And on that cross He took all the punishment for all the sin of all the people, past, present and future—all humanity—and He absorbed the evil and hatred, the violence, the greed, the prejudice and bigotry, the abuse; all that the evil of all the world focused on that moment and He broke the power of sin and evil.  His suffering and death was not just that of His own.  It was all the suffering of all the world piled on Him while He bore it silently on the cross.  

He could have complained.  He could have retaliated against His false accusers.  He could have pushed the blame and guilt and shame back on us.  He could have asked God to deliver Him from such an unjust death.  But He didn’t.  

He knew of all our suffering.  He knew of all the suffering of all the people; men, women and children from down through the ages.  And He knew our only hope was to stay the course.  

Consider the irony of the phrase, “by His wounds you have been healed” 1 Peter 2:24.  Jesus’ wounds free us from curving in on ourselves.  Jesus’ wounds heal us from selfishness and greed.  Jesus’ wounds free us from being afraid of suffering and pain.  Jesus’ wounds give us the freedom and strength to see God’s hand in blessings even the suffering as a way of shaping and molding us as His beloved children. 

We do not suffer as a result of God’s anger and punishment.  We do not suffer because God does not care.  No one on this side of heaven suffers without God’s knowledge and care for them individually and personally.  

Maybe the challenge for us is to see God at work even in the darkest moments through people who do not give in to the evil; through people who overcome the darkness with the light of God’s love despite the evil that surrounds them. God has entered our world through Jesus.  And now Jesus lives in and through you and me. Do not forget God’s ultimate promise is to make all things right when Jesus returns at His final Second Coming. Our call, our job, our challenge is to hold on to love and let God’s love in Christ fill us, shape us, embolden us and use us in our struggles against the powers of sin and darkness.  

Corrie Ten Boom provides us with a powerful example of the transformative power of suffering in view of God’s mercy. Corrie’s family was persecuted by the Nazis for protecting Jews during World War II. Corrie and her sister Betsy suffered incredible hardships in the concentration camp in which they were unjustly incarcerated. In the midst of all that misery, however, Betsy proclaimed a message of transformative faith. When Corrie lamented about the pit of suffering they were in, Betsy replied: “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” Betsy knew that life is painful but God’s mercy is even more powerful.

“By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

source: David Peters, Creative Communications for the Parish

Mercy in Temptation

1 Corinthians 10:13

The story is told of four high school boys who couldn’t resist the temptation to skip morning classes. Each had been smitten with a bad case of spring fever. After lunch they showed up at school and reported to the teacher that their car had a flat tire. Much to their relief, she smiled and said, “Well, you missed a quiz this morning, so take your seats and get out a pencil and paper.” Still smiling, she waited as they settled down and got ready for her questions. Then she said, “First question—which tire was flat?”

C.S. Lewis quote:

”A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is . . . A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means – the only complete realist.”

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.”

Our common experience.  Shared humanity.  We are not alone.  So don’t think poorly of yourself because of your temptations.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Can you accept yourself as human and vulnerable, the same as others?  Or do you make yourself out as worse off than anyone else.  That is a mistake.  Don’t do that.  Thank God for allowing temptation to remind you that you are human, and imperfect.  Quit fighting that.  Accept it.  Be glad to be reminded of it because that keeps us humble and aware of our need for grace.  It helps us to listen to God’s voice and depend on our Good Shepherd.  And that is good.  

When we think of temptation we might think of food, booze, sex, drugs, pornography, stealing, etc.  Yet, one of our most common temptations is the issue of control.  Think of the Garden of Eden and the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  “If you eat this fruit you will be like god…”  Why do we always have to be in control?  Our control is only an illusion, a myth.  We are not in control.  Why is it so hard to trust; to let go and let God be God?  

“God is faithful.  He will not let you be tested beyond your strength.”

You are never isolated and alone in your temptation in human terms.  But also know you are not isolated and abandoned by God because of your temptation.  God does not judge or condemn you because of your humanness and frailty!  Jesus came into our world to deliver us from evil.  We pray that in the Lord’s Prayer!  That doesn’t mean we don’t experience temptation.  It does give us hope that even though we are tempted there is a way out.  First, God doesn’t give up on us when we fail and fall flat on our face.  Forgiveness in Jesus is real!  Second, God can use the temptation to teach us a little more about ourselves.  Learn to listen.  

Why are we tempted?  Oftentimes temptations that we face—if we listen—help us to discover our brokenness and our insane attempts to heal ourselves through addictions and finding comfort in what become traps and snares.  When we listen maybe we can discover the root of the temptation. Are we fleeing from inner pain and suffering? From being abandoned, rejected? From being inadequate, not okay? 

Don’t run from the pain and suffering.  Look beneath it and let it guide you to the Savior’s mercy and love.  Jesus meets us where we are most broken and vulnerable.  Discover mercy in the temptation.  Discover God’s love and care for you as one of His children—a beloved child whom God desires to bless.  

Finding mercy in temptation is also a way to find hope.  Hope that you are okay, and that you will be okay.  Our journey through Lent to the cross is not about finally measuring up.  It is about discovering God’s mercy in Jesus.  It is about discovering the hope that is defined by love—God’s love given us in Jesus.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

Be Like a Tree

Luke 6.17-31, Psalm 1, Jeremiah 17.5-10

Red Skelton.  I remember watching Red Skelton with my siblings and family growing up.  Our mother’s comment was that we would watch the entire show straight faced, not cracking a smile, and then after the show was over look at each other and say, “that was funny!”  

Laughter is the best medicine.  Happy people tend to be more positive and healthier.  Similar phrases might include, “look on the bright side,” or “stay on the sunny side of life” (which is an old Bluegrass song).  

What makes you laugh?  What makes you smile?  What gives you hope and brightens your day?  Laughter helps us forget our troubles.  We can laugh easier when we feel safe and secure.  When we feel and experience true love, God’s love, the best love of all!

Listen to these quotes from a first grade class our member Bonnie (Mrs Rembacz and Julie Anderson) back in May of 1990.  These are popular phrases or colloquialisms that they asked the children to complete.  Think of how we answer them, and listen to their answers.  It will make you smile.

never underestimate the power of… power lines

laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you… are sad

do unto others what you would… do unto mom

time heals all … people

do unto others who you would … be nice to others

strike while the … baseball is there

there’s a time and place … at McDonalds

We all want happiness.  It is the American Dream, the pursuit of happiness.  How do we define happiness?  What does it take for you and I to be happy?

  • good health
  • success—having enough money to be provided for
  • to be safe and secure, to know we are loved and valued 

Jesus’ definition of happiness in this Sermon on the Plain in Luke is balanced between current unhappy circumstances and future resolution of those circumstances.  Happy are those who are poor and hungry and sad because you will be rich, fed and joyful in the future.  Happy are those who are mocked and marginalized because of their identification with Jesus. 

Then Jesus balances these blessed statements with a series of “woes.” Woe to those who are rich and well fed now. Woe to those who have all their needs met now because the time will come when the tables will be turned and you will be in want! 

Jesus sums up this part of the Sermon on the Plain with the Golden Rule. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” Luke 6:31 which will be in next weeks Gospel reading.  It can be summarized as “treat others the way you want to be treated.”  It is as if Jesus is saying, think past yourself.  Be concerned about others.  Open your heart and mind.  Think about what you are doing.  Would you want to be treated the way you are treating others?  True happiness is when we love others the way God loves us in Jesus. 

Now look at the readings from Jeremiah 17 and Psalm 1. They contrast trees and chaff.  Trees are alive.  Chaff is lifeless.  Trees are grounded and stable.  Chaff has nothing—no stability, no roots, no substance.  Trees have a steady source of water through healthy root systems even during times of drought.  Chaff is dry.  Wind may affect trees, but most trees can even survive strong winds.  Chaff gets blown around by even slight breezes.  Trees are interconnected.  Trees support and strengthen each other through root systems and providing wind break, etc.  A tree in a grove or shelter belt is stronger and healthier.  

Which do we want to be?  Be like a tree or be chaff?  

We can choose to be one or the other by how we think, act and live.  God does not choose who will be chaff or a like a tree.  We do. 

When you give in to peer pressure and allow others to have more influence on your values and life you will be like a desert shrub lifeless chaff.  Psalm 1:1 talks about letting wickedness or sinners guide and instruct us.  When we become negative and scornful we have succumbed to false thinking.  That is like being windblown and lifeless chaff.  The same is true if we are greedy or stingy and do not share with others.   

If you want to be blessed and have genuine happiness—if you want to be like a tree then be kind and generous, live past your narrow self and see your connection with others.  A tree has deep roots.  A tree is grounded and shares the shelter and root system of other trees—we are interconnected!  We are not independent.  We are inter-dependent.  We need each other.  A tree bears fruit—has meaning and purpose in life and does good for those around it—and produces oxygen while taking carbon dioxide out of the air.  Trees benefit the whole environment.  They are life giving.  Chaff is lifeless and useless.

Do you want to be safe and secure in the storms of life?  Do you want stability when the winds of chaos and change disrupt and torment us?  Christians are not protected from the stuff of life.  We have troubles and disease too. We get sick and die like anyone. But we have an anchor and source of strength that the world cannot offer.  Look for the bright side of life.  Focus on God’s presence in, with and through you.  Listen to God’s Word.  Get God’s input into your life.  Worship with other people in a setting where you are not isolated or alone or cut off from others.  Be humble.  Be teachable.  Be flexible and let God bend and shape you, mold and fill you.  We are interconnected.  Be in the Word.  Being in the Word with others keeps you from bending God’s Word to fit your own purposes and designs.  It keeps us centered and balanced.  Stay in worship and fellowship.  

Jeremiah 17:9-10.  

9   The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, 

and desperately wicked. 

Who really knows how bad it is? 

10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts 

and examine secret motives. 

I give all people their due rewards, 

according to what their actions deserve.”

There is grace and mercy in these verses.  The prophet might be talking about our unexamined sub-conscious self.  We can “tame the tiger” within by letting God speak to us through His Word and through the context of fellowship with other believers.  We can find the courage to be honest and open; to accept ourselves rather than hide who and what we are.  Through the process of dialog with others, through honesty, openness, confession and forgiveness we can accept our humanity and brokenness and finally be at home in our own skin.  We can experience happiness and contentment, have the strength and stability of a tree by accepting God’s love for what it is.  Unconditional love.  Empowering love.  Life-giving love.  When we accept the power of that love then we can be lovely people.  When we accept the power of that love then we can change, adjust our attitudes, change our actions and grow strong like a tree.  And that is a lovely thing indeed, the source of true happiness and joy.  The best Valentine gift ever.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.