Epiphany Message

Matthew 2 (the visit of the magi and Herod’s anger and violence)

“epiphanaow”—to reveal, make known

We in the northern hemisphere are in the season of growing light.  In Australia and “down under” the days are getting shorter.  But for us the days are getting longer.  We have just passed the shortest day of sunlight. The winter solstice is behind us.  

It makes sense then that the church would choose this time of year to celebrate the concept of God’s light penetrating the darkness and the increasing manifestation of Jesus.  Manifestation means to make known, to reveal.  

Jesus, the light of the world, has come into the world.  

John’s Gospel says in chapter one, “in Him was life and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it…the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:4-5 & 9)

Matthew’s Gospel, in the account before us this morning, shows us that this light not only shines on the Jewish people—the people of God, but all the people of the world.  

Outsiders, Gentiles, non-Jews, foreigners come seeking out this young boy who they believe to be the newborn king—King of the Jews.  

Our manger scenes often show the magi around the cradle, admiring the new born baby Jesus.  It is not likely that they came to Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth.  They probably didn’t come until a year or so later.  We don’t know.  But we do know they had been studying the stars and were aware of Jewish prophecy regarding the Promised One, the Messiah.  

What is amazing is that they leave everything, family, home, friends—all that they are familiar with and begin a long journey to find this baby.  Based on stories they’d heard?  Astrology?  

They were not kings, but were probably wealthy.  They had time to study and examine clues and mysteries.  But they did more than just study.  They were motivated to act on what they were learning.  

Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher and writer, compares them to the scribes and Jewish scholars in Jerusalem.

“Although the tribes could explain where the Messiah should be born, they remained quite unperturbed in Jerusalem.  They did not accompany the Wise Men to seek Him.  Similarly we may be able to explain every article of our faith, yet remain spiritually motionless.  The power that moved heaven and earth leaves us completely unmoved.

“What a contrast!  The three (wise men) had only a rumor to go by.  But it spurred them to set out on a long, hard journey.  The scribes, meanwhile, were much better informed, much better versed.  They had sat and studied the scriptures for years, like so many dons (and scholars).  But it didn’t make any difference.  Who had more truth?  Those who followed a rumor, or those who remained sitting, satisfied with their knowledge?”  (Watch for the Light, Soren Kierkegaard).

The obvious application for us?  Act on your faith.  Do not give mere intellectual assent to the existence of God and Jesus.  Don’t just say you believe. Put your faith into action.  Live out your faith.  

A part of our living out our faith is to understand that Jesus is not just for a select few.  God doesn’t choose favorites.  

Imagine how many boundaries these traveling wise men crossed; how many risks they took; how arduous and hard their journey was.  It cost them everything.  Because, somehow, they understood that God’s love and gift of a Savior reached out to them and their people as well as the “chosen people of God” in Jerusalem and Judea. 

How does King Herod respond?  He is an insecure, small minded king.  He is only concerned about protecting his position and power.  He doesn’t care about anybody or anything else.  He uses his power, authority and resources only to protect his own selfish self-centered interests.  

His paranoia causes him to find out from his Jewish scholars the place Messiah would be born—Bethlehem.  He finds out the approximate timing of the birth of Messiah from the wise men.  Then he orders the death of all the babies in and around Bethlehem to be murdered.  Boys and girls alike.  The murder of the innocents!  It is part of the Epiphany story and it is hard and harsh and leaves us troubled. 

Yet, think of this.  

We see the small picture.  The close up of pain and suffering we see and experience and we wonder “does God care?”  If so, why doesn’t God act or do something.

Yet this is the very point of the story.  God, in Christ, has come into the world.  The incarnation is the story of God—infinite in majesty and glory—becoming small and frail and at risk of all the evil we encounter.  

Why did God become human.  Why was Jesus born?  To live and die in our place.  To go to the cross and destroy forever all evil and brokenness.  

That does not take away our frustration and anger at injustice and violence caused by people like Herod.  It shouldn’t.  We should be chagrinned and angry at all evil and injustice.  But it does show us that God does indeed care and God has indeed acted and is acting through Jesus and now through the body of Christ—you and me—to make a difference in our world.  

So, again, the application of this text?  Don’t be like the passive scribes and scholars in Jerusalem.  Don’t be like Herod and lash out in anger against anyone who seems to threaten you.  Be like the magi who left everything, who risked everything to seek Jesus, to know Him and to serve Him.

The Christmas story is not about a cuddly cute baby.  The story of Epiphany is not just about light and a star and some kings who came to the cradle.  It is about caring for people—all people of all shapes and sizes and colors and even religious expressions.  It is loving those whom God created, those for whom Jesus came and died and rose again.  Care for those most vulnerable and at risk.  Don’t stop because of the noise and criticism others give you because they think you’ve gone liberal on them.  

Live your faith out loud!  In Jesus’ name Amen.  

Jesus’ Family Tree

Elim Lutheran Church December 30 2018

text: Matthew 1:1-17

DNA research has become the thing to do for many of us.  It is interesting and fun to discover a bit more of who we are and where we come from.  Sometimes though we discover things we do not expect.  Family secrets that no one told us before, like your ethnic origins being different than you thought; like you have other siblings you have never met; and maybe you are related to someone famous—or other things that are more scary to think about. 

There are a few surprises in Jesus’ ancestral history too.  Jewish people over the years have kept better track of their history than most of us.  

Jesus’ family tree includes some pretty colorful characters.  Some good guys.  Some pretty shady bad guys.  Jehoshaphat was an okay king.  Josiah became king of Judah when he was nine years old.  He was mostly a good king and accomplished a number of good reforms.  Hezekiah was one of the best kings.  

Manasseh was one bad king.  He shed a lot of innocent blood and led the people of Judah in idol worship.  He did have a turn around late in life.  But he was one of the worst.  He is part of Jesus’ lineage.  

The most amazing part of Jesus’ lineage is the women Matthew lists.  Amazing because Jews seldom would list the women.  Yet Matthew lists four, five if you count Jesus’ mother, Mary. 

What is amazing about these four women is their parallel story to Mary’s story.  All had sexual ambiguity and shadowy stories surrounding them. 

Tamar played the part of a prostitute with her father-in-law Judah.  She had good motives, she was trying to perpetuate the family line of her deceased husband, Judah’s son.  But still she played the part of a prostitute and conceived a child out of wedlock.

Rahab was the prostitute from Jericho who took in the Israelite spies and hid them.  She supported herself and her family through the age old business of selling her body.  She becomes the mother of Boaz who ends up marrying the Moabite widow Ruth.  Jews traditionally have despised the Moabites.  And yet Ruth becomes the grandmother for King David.    

The fourth woman in Jesus’ family tree is not even named.  She is referred to as the wife of Uriah, the noble soldier whom David had killed in battle in order to hide his adulterous affair.  Her name?  Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother.  

It seems as though Matthew is deliberately helping his Jewish readers see that Mary is not alone in their suspicions of her sexual purity.  Mind you, Matthew is not putting any of these women down, but maybe he is deliberately helping us to see Mary in a different light.  At the same time he re-affirms that the baby she bore was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Not every Christian believes in what we call the virgin birth.  I do.  And I believe that Matthew believed it and taught it through his gospel account.  And through that gospel account he makes a very clear point that Jesus, our Messiah was human with a very human ancestral line—connecting Him to both women and men.  

Looking at that line Matthew takes it all the way back to Abraham, making Messiah Jesus to be a son not only of King David, but also of Abraham—making Him a son of the Promise to bless all the peoples of the world.  Jewish readers would get the point that Jesus is in the Messianic line of King David, and thus understood to be Messiah—Savior of the Jewish people.  He is the Savior of the world.  

Thank you Matthew!

Another thing Matthew does is his use of numbers.  He lists fourteen generations from Abraham to King David, fourteen generations from King David to the Babylonian Exile, and fourteen generations from the Exile to Jesus.  This deliberately pivots by centering on David.  The point?  Jesus is the “son of David” who will sit on the throne of David forever.  Jesus is David’s royal son.  He is Messiah.  

Three sets of fourteen generations is interesting because fourteen generations is not necessarily accurate by our western standards.  Matthew did not feel it necessary to list everybody, even though he deliberately lists women with suspicious histories.  He seems to be intentionally using fourteen generations to make a point.

Also interesting is David’s name in Hebrew has a numeric value.  The Hebrew language gave letters of their alphabet numeric value, like the Roman Numeral system.  The numeric value of David’s name?  Fourteen.   So, again, Matthew is making a very strong point to his Jewish readers that Jesus is Messiah, the son of David promised by God long ago to sit on David’s throne.  

David’s throne today is not a throne in the Jewish capital city of Jerusalem—just recently this year being so designated by President Trump.  Jesus’ throne is better understood as Him being Head of the Holy Christian Church, the body of Christ.  

More than that Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings.  Paul in his letter to the Philippians, chapter two, reminds us that “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11).

The last thing to say about Jesus’s family tree is that through Mary Jesus takes on our humanity.  According to John’s Gospel Jesus is the “logos” — the Word who was with God and is God from before the beginning of time (John 1:1).  Jesus is God who came to us in human flesh to bring us back into fellowship and life with God.  

Jesus joined our family tree.  He became human and stepped into our broken world, so that we could be brought back into God’s family tree.  

God made us children of God through Christ Jesus.  We lost that connection through our rebellion and sin.  Jesus—through His life, death and resurrection—brought us back into the family again.  

Thank You Jesus!  Amen.

God’s Marketing Strategy

Elim December 23 2018

the Dilemma of Joy, Christmas Dilemma by the Skit Guys (skitguys.com)

Luke 2:8-20

“Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays…”  That is what I was singing to myself as I was fighting the crowds in Costco and then the traffic outside.  Better to be at home and not shopping.  It was crazy on Saturday!

Especially at this time of year stores, merchants, marketers, are all pounding us with advertisements trying to get us to spend our money on their products.  And their marketing is pretty clever.  Reba and I have our favorite commercials.  Car commercials are not about cars, but about lifestyles and luxury.  Insurance commercials are quite entertaining and clever.  Marketing.  Getting your brand recognized and desirable.  Getting your name out there.  In the same vane, every year I look forward to watching Super Bowl commercials, regardless of which teams play.  Advertisers and marketers are pretty clever in getting their name out to us.    

But God’s style of marketing is different.  

It is amazing that God deliberately chose “premodern days” to do something wonderful and new in our world.  The timing for God to enter our world and defeat evil was not choreographed to follow the discovery and invention of space age communications and lightning fast internet providers.  There were no selfies with baby Jesus and his young parents.  No Twitter or Instagram announcements and photos.  Modern day news reporters with TV cameras and satellite connections were not in Bethlehem covering the breaking news of a new born king.  There was no “breaking news” or pundits trying to explain what was happening in a small out-of-the-way town called Bethlehem.  

The first announcement of Jesus’ birth was by an angel, followed by an angel choir.  They were not announcing judgment, but God’s mercy and good news!  They were the “breaking news” of the day.  God was on the move.  Quietly.  Subtly.  God was slipping into the world in a most unusual, unexpected way.  God was born as a baby boy in a small town bustling with people.  God was born in a dusty, smelly corner of the world out of sight and unnoticed by most of the world.  Except for a small band of shepherds whose quiet evening was shattered with the incredibly, unbelievable news of the birth of Messiah!  God certainly does work in marvelous, mysterious ways!  

I suppose that not everyone believes that an angel of the Lord broke the silence of a peaceful, non-eventful night for a small band of Palestinian shepherds watching their flocks under star lit skies.  It might be hard to imagine the heavens bursting with sound and light to a small band of nobodies in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night.  It seems and sounds absurd—a product of some hopeful child’s imagination, but I believe it.  

I have never seen an angel.  I have never witnessed an angel choir.  My guess is that it was pretty stellar, out of this world, so-to-speak!  

And the recipients?  Those who were directed to find the new born baby and his mom and dad were humble shepherds.  Not nobility.  Not the rich and famous.  No one from Hollywood, no reporters or cable news network executives.  Not even church people—no bishops or clergy, or rabbis or any religious professionals.  No religious folk.  Just a small bunch of guys that lived with their sheep.  Uneducated, probably unwashed, unshaven smelly shepherds.  

They were the ones who heard that first noel!  And they were the ones that made haste to Bethlehem to see this thing that the Lord had made known to them.  Imagine their surprise! First the unexpected medium—an angelic messenger and night-sky-filling angelic choir.  And the message itself was unbelievable.  The Messiah was entering the world quietly and humbly with no human fanfare at all.  No red carpet.  No trumpets.  No royal entourage. No limousine or secret service personnel.  Just a small band of insignificant shepherds.  

They might have felt totally unworthy, totally unqualified to be the first evangelists to share the news of the birth of the Messianic King.  But share they did.  They “spread abroad what they had been told about Jesus.”  The dilemma of joy overrode their fear of public speaking.  And all those who heard their story were amazed.  

Mary and Joseph were taking note.  They had seen some angels themselves and had been told some amazing things about this special boy they were suddenly charged with bringing into the world and raising.  We are not told what Joseph thought.  Quietly observed?  Wondered.  We are told that Mary treasured and held close to her heart what they had shared.  It reaffirmed the message the Angel Gabriel had shared with her nine months earlier.  It backed up the angelic dream Joseph had about who this special child was and what His purpose and mission in life would be.  And I am sure Mary and Joseph spent a few nights talking and wrestling with the meaning of it all.  

One thing is for certain.  They were never the same again.  The shepherds were never the same again.  They were changed.  They became excellent good news bearers!  

We, too, should be good news bearers—sharing what we have seen, heard and experienced of God’s love and grace in Jesus.  Telling the good news of Jesus is not a job for celebrities or cable news anchors.  God uses everyday, ordinary people like you and me.  God chooses the lowly and the humble to show the wonder and power of His love. Let’s get hopping and tell the story of Jesus. 

In Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

The Dilemma of Belief!

The Inn Keeper’s Dilemma, part III of the Christmas Dilemma series by SkitGuys.com

Luke 2:1-7

Belief necessitates action on our part—whether that means change in our values, belief system, or behavior; or in seeing Jesus in “the other.”  Encountering the incarnate Jesus, God’s Son in human flesh means we can never be the same.  

The Dilemma of Belief.  

The dilemma of belief sounds like an oxymoron to me.  The miracle of belief, the wonder of believing, those sound good.  They make sense.  But the dilemma of belief?  

Belief, when it is genuine and comes from the heart and cannot remain mere intellectual assent.  The type of belief that God initiates in us through the power of the Spirit—hence the miracle of belief—requires action.  The Apostle Paul has a term, or rather a phrase for this, “the obedience of faith” (cf. Romans 1:5 & 16:26).  Faith, belief, requires a response from us.  If we really believe the message of Jesus’ incarnation, His life, death and resurrection on our behalf, we cannot remain neutral.  

Looking at the text.

Luke takes us to the historical anchor for Jesus’ birth narrative.  It happens at a specific time and place in history.  Augustus was the Roman Emperor.  Quirinius was the Governor of Syria overlooking Nazareth and Bethlehem in Palestine where Jesus is born.  Luke even records the motivation for this event.  It is the first registration for taxation.  Joseph and Mary, despite Mary’s condition were forced to travel approximately 100 miles on foot, albeit with the help of a donkey.    God was acting in and through history bringing about the fulfillment of the prophecy of where Jesus would be born (Micah 5:2).

They were not alone.  There were a lot of people on the road doing the same thing.  Everyone was forced to go to their ancestral home in order to register for the taxation.

Thieves would be lurking in the shadows waiting for opportunities to steal from hapless travelers and victims.  It also means the population for the ancestral cities swelled with outsiders so that finding a place to eat and rest was nigh unto impossible.  They didn’t have Hotel 6’s or Holiday Inn Expresses or McDonalds Restaurants in those days.  The had to depend on friends, relatives or others to open their homes.

The Skit Guy dramatization of the Inn Keeper’s Dilemma is fun, but also thought provoking.  What do you do when presented with a holy moment—when you know something special and unusual is taking place?  Ignore it?  What if your wife won’t let you?  What if your belief in something holy is happening right there in front of you?  You might just have to do what you can even if it seems inadequate!  

So the Inn Keeper scratches his head, and finally comes up with an unusual solution.  The barn.  The animals can help keep you warm and the feeding trough can make a make shift cradle.  My wife has some extra clothes and bedding you can use for the little tyke.

And, what a surprise to have the shepherds showing up in the middle for the night!  Boy were they glowing and happy.  Their excitement just added to the sense of wonder and holiness that permeated the night.

Consider today.  Where do you expect to see God on the move?  Where do you expect to find Jesus?  Mother Teresa would see Him in those she ministered to.  The lepers and the poor, people on the street.  Who do you see Jesus in?  The challenge is to have our eyes open, the eyes of our heart, to look with our ears and with our soul and to see Jesus in the most unlikely people.  

And, if we see Jesus in “the other,” how does that change the way we treat them?  If we see Jesus in the immigrant at our border, how does that change the way we treat them?  If we see Jesus in each other, how does that change the way we treat each other?  If we see Jesus in the one with whom we have just had an argument how does that change us?  How does it change them?  

The Inn Keeper’s Dilemma of Belief helps us to see that unexpected opportunities arise at unexpected times and in unexpected places to serve the Messiah, to serve Christ the Lord.

Lord, keep our eyes open.  Open our hearts to see You in each other.  Help us to respond with the obedience of faith.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Joseph-the Dilemma of Doubt

We are using the SkitGuys Christmas series entitled “Christmas Dilemma.”  Sunday, December 9 2018 we focused on Joseph and his struggle with doubt.  

Matthew 1:18-25

Last week we looked at Mary and her dilemma of saying yes.  Saying yes to God is not always easy, nor convenient.  Her reputation with her church, family and future husband were on the line.  How do you explain away an unexpected pregnancy? Yet she took God at His word and believed the angel Gabriel.  Remember the name Gabriel means “Warrior of God.”  God was declaring war against sin and death through the birth of His Son, through God’s entrance into our world as a baby.  Unbelievable?  Yes!  But believe it.  God was on the move!  God is still on the move!

Today we are considering Joseph and his dilemma of doubt.  Doubt in two senses.  First of all he doubted what we call the virgin birth.  Wouldn’t you?!  

“Mary, that is a great story.  You are pregnant.  It is not my child.  And, sure, you say it is a miracle—a God thing!  Right!  An angel told you it is the child of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit.  Mary, I love you, but this is crazy.  Sorry.  I cannot do this. I cannot trust you anymore.”

Joseph was a kind, gentle man.  He didn’t want to embarrass Mary, so he determined to quietly dissolve their marriage contract—and yes betrothal meant married—just not a sexually consummated relationship yet.  

But—and this is a big but—he wrestled with what to do!  He tossed and turned.  He talked to himself.  He shouted at God.  And finally decided to “absorb the problem himself.  Absolve Mary.  Let her keep the dowry and promissory money, but not marry her nor publicly disgrace her.  After he decided this he was able to finally lie down and get some shut eye.  Now that he had reached his decision he sleeps.  

And as he sleeps an angel of the Lord appears to him with an incredible message that changes his mind.  

Have you ever had that happen.  You wrestle with something for hours, trying to sleep but cannot because your thoughts are spinning and turning in your mind.  You toss and turn.  Then when you are finally able to sleep your subconscious mind continues to process your problem and — wallah! A solution pops into your brain.  You wake up and you have a workable solution to your nightmare problem.  

This was not Joseph’s subconscious mind at work however.  It was God.  God on the move.  God through an angelic messenger telling Joseph the exact same thing Mary had told him.  The child is not another man’s child.  The child is God’s Child—God’s Son, conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Nothing is impossible with God.

Joseph doubted the virgin birth.  Those among us who doubt the virgin birth should feel some comfort here.  You are in good company.  Yet, think of this.  Joseph came to believe the virgin birth as God’s intervention, a God thing caused by God’s Spirit.  We may not have a direct messenger from God convincing us, but we have Joseph’s account, and plenty of scriptures supporting the concept of the Incarnation—God coming to us in human flesh through the miracle of conception by the Holy Spirit.  

Once Joseph is able to overcome the doubt of Mary’s pregnancy, he then has to struggle with his doubt about how worthy he is to raise God’s Son.  How do you do that?  How does a simple carpenter raise a king?  How do you raise God’s Son?  Joseph felt inadequate, unworthy.  

I doubted my ability to raise my two sons.  Still do.  Yet God entrusted Joseph with His Son.  And I believe he did a great job.  None of us are perfect parents.  We do the best we can, and pray for God’s grace and help in the process.  And, accept His forgiveness when we fall short.  But we never stop parenting or loving.  

God’s plans for us is not easy. We bungle it enough times.  We make mistakes. We are human.  Yet God does not quit on us.  God doesn’t let us quit.  God entrusts the message of salvation to us.  God, through the Holy Spirit and through His Son Jesus lives in us and through us.  

God says, “I know the plans I have for you…” Jeremiah 29:11.  God is able to use us to help other find and experience the love and grace of God.  God used Joseph and Mary.  God even spoke through a donkey once in the Old Testament.  God can speak through us too.  And remember, actions speak louder than words.  Be kind.  Be patient.  Be forgiving.  Point to Jesus and what He did for us through His coming to us as a babe who lived and died for us in our place, and rose again so that we could live the new life.  

I am glad Mary said yes to God.  I am glad Joseph overcame his doubt and took his part in God’s pan also.  You and I can follow suit.  We can live as forgiven believers pointing to Jesus, God’s Son, Savior of the world.  God give us courage and grace to do so.  Amen.

Stand Up! Speak Up! Sit Down!

text:  Jeremiah 1:4-10 & 7:1-11

summary statement:  

The purpose of the church is not the church itself, but the world.  We are the body of Christ for the sake of the world.  God calls us to be actively engaged in living our faith out loud, caring for the world, especially those most vulnerable.  

First of all, a couple of quotes.

“All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  – Abraham Lincoln

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” When you know something is wrong, but you don’t speak up, you become part of the problem.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln 

God is calling Jeremiah to “stand up and speak up.” Today we all need to stand up and be counted, to speak out. Just as true, we need to learn when to “shut up,”  when to sit down and give it a rest.  

Speaking up for God?  Who does that these days!  

Too many of us presume to speak on God’s behalf, yet in the process are merely spouting our own ideas. Rather than speaking for God, we are trumpeting our own views.  The result is we recreate God in our image, as if God were in complete agreement with us and our thoughts.  

How do we avoid that trap? By slowing down and listening; by being humble students of Scripture; by approaching God’s Word with prayer and asking for guidance.  By examining and challenging our assumptions and being willing to adjust and change as we listen and learn.  

This reading from Jeremiah has two focuses.  The first is God’s call to Jeremiah when he was still young and inexperienced. Jeremiah felt inadequate.  He felt intimidated.  Like other prophets, and us, he was hoping God would call on someone else to speak up for God.  Second, God tells Jeremiah to confront the people with their hypocrisy.  They need to examine their lives and live their faith out loud—caring for others in their midst; caring for the weak and vulnerable. 

God’s opening comment to Jeremiah is about God knowing him even before birth, even before conception. This is not talking about what some call “pre-existance” — the idea that we were hanging around somewhere in heaven or space waiting to be given a human body.  

Another concept that this touches on is “predestination.”  Does God predestine us in such a way that we have no will, no choice of our own?  That our lives are all planned out and predetermined in advance—like fatalism?  

God has a plan for each and every one of us.  Jeremiah was called by God, even before birth.  Jeremiah’s life purpose was God ordained.  Yet Jeremiah had choices and freedom in how he responded.   God is not a puppeteer, controlling and manipulating us according to some mysterious plan.  That is an inaccurate picture of the loving God of the Bible we have come to know through Jesus.  

A hermeneutical principle (hermeneutics is the science of interpreting and understanding the Bible) is that our interpretation must be understood within the context of Scripture. When we read the Bible we need to always keep the bigger picture in view and not let the confusing smaller pieces throw us off.  

God’s plan is not as specific as some might try to understand it.  Who to marry, where to live, where to go to school, what type of job to pursue, etc.  God gives us a fair amount of latitude in life and life’s choices.  

But God does get quite specific in how we live, how we care for ourselves and for each other.  The Ten Commandments is quite tangible in showing us how to live a life of love in our relationship with God and with ourselves. 

God’s plan does not just mean living a good and moral life.  None of us can do that adequately.  None of us can live and love well enough on our own.  We need help.  We need mercy and grace.  God’s plan centers on Jesus.  We need Jesus who is God-come-to-us in human flesh for the sake of saving and changing us, and for the sake of reaching all people.

God had us in mind even before the creation of the world.  The Apostle Paul tells us that God’s plan for saving us through Jesus was put into place even before the world was created. 

“Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be His through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before Him.”(Ephesians 1:4)

God had each of us in mind when Jesus died on the cross and rose again.  God intends for all “to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). 

God’s plan for each of us centers on Jesus.  And, God’s plan for us includes how we live out our faith in the context of our lives and the world, how we live with each other.

So, what does God tell Jeremiah to say to the God’s people?  Look at chapter 7:3, “amend your ways and your doings, and let Me dwell with you in this place.  Do not trust in these deceptive words:  “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”

The temple is not an end in itself. The purpose of the Temple is for people to draw close to God together in worship.  To nurture and care for their relationship with God and with each other.  The purpose of the Temple was to help the worshippers love God and love people—to live their faith. 

The purpose of the church is not the church.  We do not exist for the sake of ourselves.  God has placed us here for the sake of caring for the world, for all people.  To love God and to love people.  Walk our talk.  Live our faith out loud.  Don’t just claim to be religious, put our faith into action.  Faith is not just a set of doctrines and beliefs that we adhere to. Our faith must make a difference in how we live and conduct ourselves.

God’s plan is that we connect with His heart, connect with God’s care for all people.  That we make our worship and daily lives be in sync.  To not only talk the talk, but to walk the walk. To live our faith out loud.  

God’s call to Jeremiah is to speak God’s Word faithfully and consistently, not being afraid of those he speaks to, not altering or changing the message in order to appease his audience. 

God tells Jeremiah he will speak to an international populace.  People from multiple nations and kingdoms.  God “touches” Jeremiah’s mouth and says, “now I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9).  When we try to make it easier for ourselves by narrowing the scope of what it means to love our neighbor, Jesus teaches us in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 11 that all people are our neighbors.  Who do we accept help from?  Who do we help?  Hopefully, not just those like us, those with whom we feel safe or agree with.  But all people, even those very different from us. 

God’s call to Jeremiah was to stand up and speak up.  No hiding. No avoiding.  No shirking of duty.  Stand up and seize the day.  Stand up and take the initiative.  Don’t wait for convenience or the golden opportunity.  Stand up and speak up.  But, then do not belabor your speaking.  Don’t argue or push.  Let God be God.  Sit down and trust the process of God working.

In Jesus’ name. Amen!

A Declaration of Dependence!

text:  Isaiah 36 & 37

San Francisco has its cable cars. Seattle has its Space Needle. And Longview, WA has its squirrel bridge called The Nutty Narrows Bridge. Spanning Olympia Way, is a local landmark.

The Nutty Narrows Bridge was built in 1963 by a local builder, the late Amos Peters, to give squirrels a way to cross the busy thoroughfare without getting flattened by cars. Before the bridge was built, squirrels had to dodge traffic to and from the Park Plaza building where office staff put out a nutty feast for the squirrels. Many times, workers near Park Plaza witnessed squirrels being run over. It didn’t take long before squirrels started using the bridge. They even escort their young across, teaching them the ropes. In addition to the Nutty Narrows Bridge, four additional bridges have since been built, the most recent bridge was installed in May of 2015. The sixth bridge is in the works.

This safe squirrel-highway reminds us that God daily and richly provides for all we need, even when we forget to ask; even when we fail to say thanks.  This safe squirrel-highway was a complete gift to the squirrels.  Provided because the builder saw the need and responded with kindness beyond measure.  

That reminds me of God and God’s presence, provision and protection for us.  Even when things go wrong.  Even when disaster strikes as in our reading from Isaiah.   

Most all of us can recall times in our lives when we were absolutely desperate, with crises and bad news confronting us and now where to turn.  In our text Hezekiah has just such a situation!

Sennacherib, the king of Assyria had defeated nation after nation and has now come up against Judah.  Sennacherib’s army has already captured a number of cities in Judah and he now turns his attention to the capital city of Jerusalem.  He is powerful.  He confident and his boasts are not without warrant.  His army has had victory after victory and Judah’s capital city would be nothing for him to capture!

Sennacherib sends an emissary to Jerusalem.  He speaks the language of the Jews and addresses King Hezekiah in the Hebrew language so all the residents of Jerusalem can hear and understand him.  Hezekiah’s officials meet with him at the water gate.  The emissary is clever and wants to dishearten and discourage the Jews of Jerusalem.  He wants to undermine King Hezekiah and cause a revolt against him by his own people.  

The emissary openly questions Hezekiah’s leadership.  “Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war!”  Who do you rely on?  Egypt is useless!  Will you trust God?  God sent me here to destroy and capture you!  You have failed God.  God has sent me to punish and destroy you!  

The emissary continues in verse 13, do not let Hezekiah fool you.  Do not let him make you trust God.  Do not listen to him!  

Make your peace with me instead.  I will take care of you and you will be okay.  I will let you stay in your own homes until I come to take you away to a land like your land.  Besides none of the god’s of the other nations have been able to deliver them from me.  How can your God deliver you!  Give up.  Give in.  It’s no use to fight me!

Can you imagine how Hezekiah must be feeling in this story?  Isaiah 37 shows he is desperate.  I can think of a series of “d” words for his situation.  Desperate.  Demoralized.    Depressed.  Distressed. Despondent.  

Was he wrong for trusting God?  What if God had sent Sennacherib to punish him?  Hezekiah was a good king and followed God, but his predecessors had not been faithful.  What if Hezekiah had not “earned God’s approval?”  What if they were doomed?  

Hezekiah sends his officials to the prophet Isaiah dressed in mourning and repentance and gives them the message in Isaiah 37:3-4:

“this is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the birth (by this he must mean distressed women have miscarried or given birth prematurely), and there is no strength to bring them forth.  It may be that the Lord your God heard the words of Rabshakeh, whom his master, the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.”

Many of us have been in tough situations in our lives when we struggled.  Is God punishing me?  Has God neglected me or forgotten me?  Is there any hope?  I cannot image how people in concentration camps have felt, or Jews being persecuted by Hitler’s reign of terror, or how the Syrian refugees and other war refugees must feel, or the refugees that are part of the so called “immigrant train” from Central America—who left because of terror and violence in hopes of finding help and safety—I cannot image nor picture the desperation they must feel.  

It is hard to find answers to these troubled times.  Yet I cling to Isaiah’s words to Hezekiah.  

“Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard…”  

Over and over again the Bible quotes God through prophets and angels telling us to “not be afraid.”  Don’t give in to fear.  Sometimes it is nearly impossible to not be afraid—to trust God through all the storms and disasters of life.  

What are times in your life when you have felt—desperate—doomed—hopeless?  God delivered Hezekiah from a powerful and dangerous foe.  A foe that taunted and insulted him, and undermined him before his people.  A foe that mocked and insulted God.  

What if this Thanksgiving you make a declaration to yourself and to our Lord that you need Him?  When we celebrate the national day of Thanksgiving, that, in effect, is what we do.  Lord, we are grateful for Your provision of all our needs.  And we express our utter dependence upon You for daily life and all the provision necessary for this life.  We need God’s provision, God’s protection, God’s mercy and grace, God’s presence and leading in our lives.   

Today we give thanks for Jesus.  We give thanks for grace, for heaven, for all that God does and continues to do for us.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.