“Here I Stand”

October 31, 2022

Today is the second largest commercial holiday in the United States, second only to Christmas.  Where did Halloween come from?        

         About 2000 years before Christ, The Celts of the British Isles celebrated Samhain on November 1 as their New Year’s day, end of harvest, and beginning of the dark time of the year.  It was considered a “thin place” or time when the boundary between the material and spirit world could be crossed.  The ghosts of dead people could visit the living.  Large bonfires were built and sacrifices offered to appease these spirits.  By 43 CE Romans had overtaken the British Isles but they too had celebrations that became incorporated with the Samhain celebration of the Celts.  The Roman holiday, Pomona, celebrated the passing of people.   The symbol of the goddess Pomona was the apple (bobbing for apples?). Those two celebrations combined. In 609 CE Pope Boneface IV declared May 19 as the day for the celebration of the lives of martyrs.  This date was moved to November 1.  By the 9th century All Saints Days was firmly established as November 1.  The “eve of All Saints Day” or Halloween was October 31.  Costumes were worn in these celebrations to hide from the spirits of the dead who were believed to roam around seeking “treats” or threatening “tricks.”

         On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the Wittenberg church door calling for public debate.   He opposed the belief that the dead could return to life and seek help in their after life.  He opposed indulgences as acts of good deeds to help the dead spend fewer years in purgatory.  He opposed the authority of the Pope in selling indulgences.  Last week we pondered “Grace alone,”faith alone,” “Scripture alone, “Christ alone” and “Glory to God alone,” the pillars of the reformation.  We are saved by God’s grace because God is good not because we become good. Faith is how we relate to God directly.  We do not have to go through in-between places like pergatory or saints. Scripture, is the ultimate authority and not councils and traditions that have contradicted each other.  And ultimately Christ is the only name that saves us by his work on the cross. The newly invented printing press spread Luther’s challenges and so the Protestant Reformation is dated to October 31, 1517.  Today we celebrate Reformation and Halloween.

         As Christians we do not believe we need to wear costumes to hide from evil.  We do not believe deceased ancestors return to play tricks on us.  We do believe evil was defeated on the cross.  And we certainly believe in welcoming the children in our neighborhood and getting to know people.  We need not fear for we know Christ is alive and that is not a trick.  It is a treat!  Blessings.

“A Mighty Fortress is Our God”

October 29, 2022

Psalm 46:1-4

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

One of the favorite hymns that came out of the Reformation, we celebrate tomorrow, was written by Martin Luther.  Luther wanted to make scripture accessible to his congregation and so took this favorite tune and fashioned a song that picked up the tensions we experience in this world and the truth that opens Psalm 46.  Perhaps you don’t see life in the images of struggle lime the hymn but for many life is a battle with evil and a struggle to find a loving God.  Let us listen and then read the words and meditate on their truth for our day.  Blessings.

1 A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
our helper he, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe does seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.

2 Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing,
were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing.
You ask who that may be?  Christ Jesus, it is he; Lord Sabaoth his name,
from age to age the same; and he must win the battle.

3 And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.

4 That Word above all earthly powers no thanks to them abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever! 

“To God Alone Be the Glory”

October 28, 2022

To the four pillars of the Reformation (Scripture alone, Christ alone, Faith alone, and Grace alone) was added a fifth “Alone” that summarizes and connects the four pillars.  To God alone be the glory.  The central question of the Reformations was justification –, how can people be made right with an unseen and seemingly distant God when we are so prone to sin and doubt?   What is the point of our mortal life and how does it relate to the unseen, eternal world?  It is answered by a theology that that does not focus on me, my works, my beliefs, or my life but focuses only the role of God.  God created, incarnated, atoned and calls us to relationship with himself for eternity.  God alone inspired Scripture.  God alone incarnated in Jesus.  God alone responds to our faith.  God alone graces us with the gift of eternal life.  Ultimately God gets all the glory.  That’s the point.

         Please enjoy this Andrea Crouch rendition of the song,  “To God Be the Glory!”

1.  To God be the glory
Great things He has done
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin
And opened the life-gate that all may go in

CHORUS:  Praise the Lord, praise the Lord
Let the people rejoice
Come to the Father
Through Jesus the Son
Give Him the glory
Great things He has done

2.  O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood
To every believer the promise of God
The vilest offender who truly believes
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives


3.  Great things He has taught us, great things He has done
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son
But purer, and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, our worship, when Jesus we see

“Grace Alone”

October 27, 2022

Romans 3:23-25

23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 

24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift,

through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 

25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood,

 effective through faith.

He did this to show his righteousness,

 because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed;

This verse was a deal breaker for Luther.  I have broken up the passage to focus on various ideas that explain grace.  Our world is a tit for tat place.  Actions have consequences and our experiences of grace may not be many.  In fact many suffer from abuse and persecution for being a woman, a person of color, for having no protector…many suffer unjustly.  We seek and long for justice.  Ultimate power rests with God.  Ultimate authority rests in the words he speaks.  We access it through faith.  Only God can bring justice.  So what is grace?

         We have all sinned.  We would like to think by pointing our finger at anther we deflect the guilt of our own short-comings.  I like the explanation that we are all sinners with a capitol “S”.  We are all separated from God as we are born into this world.  Sins, small “s,” are the bad things we do, the bad choices we make, the bad attitudes we have that only speak to our separation, “S”.  Somehow we just can’t do right…all of the time.  Last Sunday in our Gospel text a religious man who stood in the Temple or church thanking God that he was so wonderful and not like that horrible sinner standing on the fringes.  Meanwhile the tax collector stood in a corner and cried, “Lord, have mercy.”  Jesus said the tax collector went home “justified.”  God gifts us, graces us with forgiveness when we turn to him in humility.  Not because of our works but because of his choice.  Faith is that turn to God and away from self.

         So we come to the big theological term “atonement.”  Merriam Webster says atonement is like “reconciliation.”  I was surprised there is a award winning film called Atonement.  In a convoluted life long story a younger sister ruins the love between her sister and her love and the two lovers die without being able to marry.  The younger sister, old and sick, writes a story in which the couple is united and live happily ever after.  The imaginary story atones for the real wrong of life.  The author opens the way to happiness. 

         Because in Eden humanity turned away from God, in the cross, where God as Jesus suffers all the evils humanity could experience, God opens the door for atonement, an opportunity for us to turn back to him.  Only God can atone.  The saints cannot share their goodness with us.  We must ourselves turn to God through faith.  It is a gift we receive with open hands.  We need not worry about being skeletons or bodiless spirits wandering this world in penance for our sins.  God offers us a gift by his grace, not because of our goodness but because of his grace.

         As we approach Halloween and Reformation Sunday, may we focus our attention on the grace of God’s goodness to us even when we can’t be good enough to deserve it.  Let us say prayers of thanksgiving for forgiveness as a gift!

“ Faith Alone”

October 26, 2022

Ephesians 2:8-9

For by grace you have been saved through faith,

and this is not your own doing;

it is the gift of God— not the result of works,

so that no one may boast.

         Reformation focused on Scripture (inspired, infallible, inerrant) as the ultimate authority in maters of faith, not tradition.  Jesus Christ is the ultimate power as God and also human through the incarnation.  He was the God/man.  All others people are mortals.  Jesus Christ has the power to save.  Saints, living and living eternally, have the power to stand with us in prayer but they do not save us.  So today we come to our third point of tension and controversy, the role of faith and works. 

         One of the spiritual practices at the time of Luther was the selling and buying of indulgences and the honoring of relics.  It was believed that an indulgence could remove years in purgatory, between heaven and hell.  Saying a certain number of prayers honoring a relic also removed years in purgatory.  Luther struggled to find a loving God and not an angry God who had to be appeased and for whom the human was always trying to do enough good works.  For many of us we live in the tension of faith and works.  The book of James tackles this tension because faith without works is dead but works alone without relationship with God is just being a do-gooder.   Luther had an epiphany when he read Romans 1:16-17,

            “16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for       salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the        Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith          for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith”

         Hebrews 11 is called the “Faith Chapter” as it goes through the lives of the heroes of the Bible of every generation who lived by faith.  The author defines faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews (11:1).”  After reading about the men of faith, the author concludes “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better (verse 39).”

         At Halloween the tradition of giving candy to children was originally a way of appeasing spirits who might be looking to do you harm.  Good works appeased spiritual wrath.  Luther would say no.  Good works are products of our love for a God who saves us.  We give candy out of love and not out of fear.

         The image that has helped me put my limited mind around this great foundational concept is electricity. Electricity runs through our house and cannot be seen but can be experienced at heat in the stove, as sound from the radio, and as light from the bulb.  We talk about God as a Trinity but One.  All are experiences of electricity.  Faith is the switch turning on and tuning into each aspect of electricity, connecting us with God.  It is Christ who saves but it is faith that accesses that truth. Perhaps let us look at Hebrews 11 and choose just one hero that inspires you.  What inspires you by this person’s life?  Spend a moment in prayer to talk with God about that characteristic in your life.

“ Christ Alone”

October 25, 2022

Acts 17:16-34

As children we often resort to “my father’s stronger than your father” as an appeal to ultimate authority.  As we age and face our mortality, the discussion evolves to which government has authority to decide fates and ultimately to beliefs about which gods have the most power over a situation.  During the Reformation big existential questions of faith were debated.  Yesterday we looked at how Luther claimed only Scripture that is “inspired, inerrant, and infallible” has authority over traditions that arise from humans who are fallible.  He did not accept the infallibility of the Pope or Councils.  Ultimately Scripture inspired by God gets the last word.  That opened the door for denominations to disagree about interpretation and it opened the door of translation and the putting of Scripture into the language of the people.  We live with those tensions and arguments today.

         The second point of tension is summarized in “Christ Alone.”  Jesus Christ and not Mary, some saint or some other deity, only Jesus is the sole mediator between God and his creation.  Christianity is monotheistic, meaning that we only believe in the existence of one God and Jesus was the God/Man that opened the way of salvation to all by his death on the cross.

11 This Jesus is

“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
    it has become the cornerstone.”

12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’ (Acts 4:11 -12)

         In Acts, Paul visits Athens and sees all the idols to the various Roman and Greek gods.  Paul stood and addressed the Aeropaus.  The statue dedicated to the “Unknown God” he equates to the God, the creator, and savior through Christ.  We don’t use the word idol today but we look in various places for authority and power to resolve conflict.  We spend much energy over politics, education, and the hunt for wealth.  We are tempted to idolize that which is not a god.

         At Halloween the tradition of wearing costumes originated in the belief that on the eve of All Saints day, spirits could roam the world and harass people they had trouble with in life and so wearing costumes was to deceive these spirits. Christ Alone says that we need not fear the spirits of the dead.  Dead people do not return to life.  Christ is stronger than all evil that can seek to undermine our faith.

         Today we might reflect on what we look to when we feel anxious, insecure, or vulnerable.  Is God our “first port” in a storm or an afterthought?  There is no other name under heaven… Let us thank him that we can be on first name basis with him and because of his incarnation, his taking on of humanity, he really understands us.  Thank you, Lord.

“ Scripture Alone”

October 24, 2022

Psalm 119

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path (v,105)

Your word, Lord is eternal, it stands firm in the heavens (v.29)

Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,

your salvation according to your promise.
42 Then I shall have an answer for those who taunt me,

for I trust in your word.
43 Do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
    for my hope is in your ordinances.
44 I will keep your law continually, for ever and ever.
45 I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought your precepts.
46 I will also speak of your decrees before kings,

and shall not be put to shame;
47 I find my delight in your commandments, because I love them.
48 I revere your commandments, which I love,
    and I will meditate on your statutes. (v.41-48)

Most think of this week as building up to Halloween next Monday, the 31st of October.  October 31, 1517 is famous because Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg, inviting debate on points he disagreed with the dominant Catholic Church at the time.  October 31 is generally considered the beginning of the Reformation.  Out of the Reformation came multiple protestant denominations and Catholic reform.

         In Luther’s thinking there were four pillars around which his theological thinking developed: Scripture alone (over traditions), Faith alone (not works), Grace alone (not indulgences), and Christ alone (not saints).  These named the four tensions he felt with Rome.  We will look at these four “Sola” or “Alone” foci this week. 

         The verses above were written by King David. Christian lore has it that David used Psalm 119 to teach his son Solomon wisdom.  The whole psalm is an acrostic poem built on the Hebrew alphabet and speaks of the delight of living by Scripture, the Torah, sacred law, and its value for our lives.  Jesus is famously quoted as saying during his temptation by the Devil in the wilderness after his baptism, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on ever word that comes out of the mouth of God.”

         God’s word is a “light,” “eternal, ”trust worthy,” hope giving, and give liberty and honor to those who know it.  It is not a bonfire we burn at Halloween to light the way for the dead or a candle we put in a pumpkin to make a scary face to scare away evil visitors.  God’s word lightens our way every day and is reliable showing us the way to life.  Spend a moment reflecting on the blessing God’s word has been in your life.  Perhaps you can name a verse that has been light to your path!  Amy Grant sings a worship song around Psalm 119:105.  Enjoy.

20th Sunday after Pentecost: Insiders and Outsiders

October 23, 2022

First Reading: Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22

7Although our iniquities testify against us,
  act, O Lord, for your name’s sake;
 our apostasies indeed are many,
  and we have sinned against you.
8O hope of Israel,
  its savior in time of trouble,
 why should you be like a stranger in the land,
  like a traveler turning aside for the night?
9Why should you be like someone confused,
  like a mighty warrior who cannot give help?
 Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us,
  and we are called by your name;
  do not forsake us!

10Thus says the Lord concerning this people:
 Truly they have loved to wander,
  they have not restrained their feet;
 therefore the Lord does not accept them,
  now he will remember their iniquity
  and punish their sins.

19Have you completely rejected Judah?
  Does your heart loathe Zion?
 Why have you struck us down
  so that there is no healing for us?
 We look for peace, but find no good;
  for a time of healing, but there is terror instead.
20We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord,
  the iniquity of our ancestors,
  for we have sinned against you.
21Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
  do not dishonor your glorious throne;
  remember and do not break your covenant with us.
22Can any idols of the nations bring rain?
  Or can the heavens give showers?
 Is it not you, O Lord our God?
  We set our hope on you,
  for it is you who do all this.

Psalm: Psalm 84:1-7

1How dear to me is your dwelling,  O Lord of hosts!
2My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
  my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
3Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest where she  may lay her young, by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts, my   king and my God.
4Happy are they who dwell in your house!
  They will always be praising you. 
5Happy are the people whose strength is in you,
  whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.
6Those who go through the balsam valley will find it a place of  springs, for the early rains have covered it with |pools of water.
7They will climb from height to height,
  and the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

6As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

16At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel: Luke 18:9-14

9[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”


Today’s sermon tells a parable of two men, seemingly different from each other but in the Temple of God.  It made me think of the concept of yin-yang.  Share what you think yin and yang stand for with your neighbor.  Think of the picture of a circle with two tear drops of opposite colors hugging each other.

Wikipedia explains yin-yang like this, “Yin and yang (/jɪn/ and /jæŋ/) is a Chinese philosophical concept that describes opposite but interconnected forces. In Chinese cosmology, the universe creates itself out of a primary chaos of material energy, organized into the cycles of yin and yang and formed into objects and lives. Yin is the receptive and yang the active principle, seen in all forms of change and difference such as the annual cycle (winter and summer), the landscape (north-facing shade and south-facing brightness), sexual coupling (female and male), the formation of both men and women as characters and sociopolitical history (disorder and order).”

Let us pray.  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.


As we have traveled to Jerusalem this Pentecost we have heard parables about being invited to a banquet, people wanting the best seats, and people wanting to be excused due to home responsibilities.  We’ve looked at the rich man and Lazarus and the eternal line between heaven and hell.  Heavy stuff.  We’ve also seen ten lepers pleading for mercy and being healed and a poor widow, standing alone, seeking justice from an indifferent legal system.  Jesus assured us that the God of the universe does not deal with his chosen like that unjust judge who just wanted to silence the irritation.  We ended last Sunday saying, “Thank you, Lord!”  The kingdom of heaven is not like the kingdom of this world!  We are not objects of yin and yang to keep the cosmos balanced!

         Today Luke jumps right in to another parable as Jesus looks at his audience and realizes many are not taking his words personally and seriously.  Jesus talks about two men who have come to the Temple to seek God in prayer.  One is an “insider,” a religious man, part of the religious establishment.  This man was in the Jewish system but it could be you and I who are here today in God’s house, not visitors but members, bringing our souls into the light of God’s word.  The other man is an “outsider,” someone condemned by the system, a “sinner.”  We don’t know exactly what his sin was that weighed on his soul but he might have been a modern day IRS worker, or an ICE employee, a scared police person who shot too quickly, or maybe just a woman who had a teenage abortion and she still feels guilty.  We don’t know the specifics of these two people but we know that Jesus tells the parable to people like you and me, an audience.  On the surface, it looks like yin and yang but there is an underlying question of justification. Our text says,  

“Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.”

Have you ever been tempted to think, “There but for the grace of God, go I,” as someone burdened with mishap passes you? The difference between saying that phrase and thanking God that you are not unfortunate like someone else, is dangerously close to the self righteous man in the parable. On the surface, it looks like our “insider” is praising and thanking God for all the blessings and good fortunes he has experienced.  But on closer inspection, it appears he is patting himself on the back while thanking God that he, the person, has made wise choices, invested wisely, tithed properly, raised good children and is leading a clean, respectable life. His eyes are looking at himself in comparison to others.  He is claiming self for his righteousness and not looking to God.  Maybe he is not a murderer but neither does he acknowledge his hate and envy and jealousy to another.  He has tried to do his best and love his neighbor as himself.  Still the focus is on his works, not God’s grace.  One of the pillars of the Reformation celebration next week will be “Grace Alone.”

         Like Job’s friends, it is also easy to assume that a person experiencing trouble, like the “outsider” standing on the fringes, has done something wrong or that when “the insider” experiences problems it is the “insider’s” own sin that needs to be dealt with.  Unfortunately most of us have those skeletons in our closet that we don’t want others to know about as we come to church.  I don’t know what was going on with our “insider” that drew him to the Temple but I do know that often I hold back the tears when I come to church.  Likewise it is easy for the evil one to convince me that I have offended God when life throws a curve.  God must be teaching me a lesson that I didn’t learn last round.  I beat myself up and blame myself.  When I get into this mind-set that is similar to our “insider”, I may not be praising God for how wonderful I am but I am equally looking at self for how miserable I am compared to others.

         Our text goes on to say, though, that our “insider” holds the other in contempt.  I may distain the downtrodden or I may distain the fortunate.  I can reason that they have pulled strings, have inherited money to invest, have been blessed with talents and looks not mine or any other reasons for their success and my failure.  It doesn’t matter.  I am playing the comparison game to gage my value to God.  The “insider” is not necessarily telling a lie.  Perhaps he is seeing himself correctly.  The problem is not his actions but that he looks at his works in comparison to other’s works to measure his relationship to God and uses his works to gage the actions of others.  He lives in a yin-yang world that does not account for the presence and interaction with God.

…standing far off…

Standing on the fringes of the Temple is our second person, our second man, “the outsider”.  He does not raise his voice in praise or thanksgiving for how wonderful he is but rather cries out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”  Like the lepers, like the widow, this person realizes that without God, he is lost.  He needs mercy.  He needs God’s grace.  He has humbled himself to even enter the Temple.  He too is being honest but rather than looking at the black column in the social register, he sees the red column of his life.  His eyes are on only himself.  This guy reminds us of the Prodigal Son.  He too is one of God’s sons but has the moment of truth and knows he has just done life wrong.

Amazingly, though, the man does not repent and offer to pay back the people he has offended like Zaccheus.  He does not beg to be remembered in Paradise like the thief on the cross.  He does no remarkable deed indicating an unsuspected godly character like the Good Samaritan.  This man simply turns his eyes to God and cries “help, mercy” from the back of the church.  Jesus says that the “outsider,” not the “insider” goes home justified.  This is a very shocking parable that defies our understanding and highlights our tendency to depend on our faith rather than God’s grace and mercy. On what basis could this man be justified? Our incredulity points to our expectation that justification must somehow be connected to our lives, our works.  It is easy to reason that he has believed and so is justified.  Immediately faith becomes a works.  When my eyes shift from God to myself or others, I have stepped onto a slippery slope.

“…for all who exalt themselves will be humbled,

but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

         God works outside our boxes and our expectations.  He justifies “outsiders” who do not follow our religious paradigms for how salvation works.  The man did not accept Jesus as his savior.  He did not seem to repent.  We do not know that he changed his life.  We don’t know that he was even baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan.  All we know is that he threw himself on God’s mercy, acknowledging his own sinfulness and helplessness.  Parables only give us a glimpse into a slice of truth, not the whole truth.  This parable clearly reminds us that humility is how we understand ourselves in relation to God.  We are sinners.  Like the people at the banquet who did not wait for the host to assign their seating and were warned to be humble, Jesus again warns us to be humble.  God knows our lives and the big picture and will exalt us at the proper time.  God is infinitely merciful and full of grace.  Likewise God understands the challenges that the other person is facing and is able to work in ways we totally don’t expect. God is willing to bring into his family anyone, even people whom we might consider inappropriate.  May we not have wandering eyes and gage our value by others but fall on God’s grace.

Two Men-Two Kingdoms

         Through Pentecost this year we have been seeing through Luke’s eyes how Jesus differentiated between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven.  We stand in both kingdoms as we are born into this world and the cross opens entrance into the kingdom of heaven that is unseen but present, and yet to be revealed.  Our two men in the Temple are in God’s world, I would suggest they are like the two kingdoms we stand in rather than a yin-yang sort of division which sees me as in one or the other.

         As people living in the United States, it is sooooo easy to consider ourselves blessed, chosen, not like the impoverished countries of the Third World.  We think we are protected by our faith.  It is easy to become arrogant and distaining of others who are not wonderful like us.  We can stand in the center of the Temple thinking that God is focused on us and become arrogant.  We pat ourselves that we are not like the Baptist, having to build swimming pools in our churches.  We are not like Catholics, having to go to confession and say repentant prayers.  We as Americans have the right to life, liberty and freedom of speech and faith.  We are dangerously close to holding attitudes like the “insider.”

         The kingdom of this world creates hierarchies of riches, talents, power, education and so many other things by which we feel blessed to be part of and not like those “others.”  It may be possible to see how the “insider” is the one looking at this worldly kingdom that he belongs to and at the same time to subtly despise those others not as equally blessed with this world’s stuff.

         Meanwhile the “outsiders” who are immersed in war, famine, political intrigue and environmental chaos can only cry, “Lord, have mercy, we need help!”  Perhaps they would not call themselves “sinners” but because of the woes of the present, the blessings sometimes fade.  The Gospel touches their lives in different ways and they can speak to us if we are willing to listen.  The kingdom of God is not geographical but spiritual, composed of people who realize they are helpless without the grace of God and his mercy.

         Our God is so great!  He works with those “insiders” in the system, calling them through the Gospel, through music, through fellowship into deeper relationship with him.  He reminds them that they need not compare themselves to others to be valuable.  He sent Christ to die for them even when they were sinners and “outsiders” to his grace.  But it is also true that God’s boundless grace works to justify the “outsider” who stands on the fringes, pleading for mercy.  He hears their cry and sees their plight.  We are never outside his grace. He asks nothing but that we turn to him.  As we humble ourselves, he will exalt us at the right time and in the right way. Life is not about balance but about focus…on God!  Praise to his name!

Let the people of God say, “Amen.”

“ 100,000 Reasons”

October 22, 2022

by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin

This week we pondered references to trees found in the wisdom literature in the Bible: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.  The song 100,000 Reasons also commonly called Bless the Lord was released in 2011 and is the most popular worship song today.  It was inspired by the opening verse of Psalm 103, “Praise the Lord, my soul, all my inmost being, praise his holy name,” and is based on the 19th century English hymn “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven.”  It does not talk about trees but it does turn our eyes upwards to God even as looking at a beautiful tall tree will draw our eyes upward.  May we take a moment and just enjoy this beautiful worship song that is enjoyed by many.  Blessings.

“An Apple Tree”

October 21, 2022

Song of Solomon 2:3

“As an apple tree among the trees of the wood,

so is my beloved among young men.

With great delight I sat in his shadow,

and his fruit was sweet to my taste.”

We have been enjoying wisdom literature this week from the Bible.  Much of it is poetry or like Proverbs, short sayings.  Song of Solomon is a love story that uses the language of eroticism of couples in love.  Many think this book speaks to the deep love that God has for his people, his creation.  Solomon likens the beloved to an apple tree among the “trees of the wood.”    I’m not that familiar with apple trees but I know they are not fir trees and they are not bushes.  An apple tree in the middle of the Redwoods would look unique indeed.  Nor do we decorate an apple tree at Christmas, only for a special occasion.  Finding an apple tree in the middle of a woods and finding it full of apples would be unique and delightful.  Love is like that.  Human love like the apple tree has fruitful times and dry times.  God’s love is always producing.  Relationship with Christ is like an apple tree in the woods of life.

         I have sat at the airport and watched the couples walk by and pondered their stories of being drawn to each other.  The saying is “love is blind” and that describes God’s love.  He isn’t looking for the perfect model, the perfect whatever but his love sees the other as perfect and unique.  God sees each of us unique among the trees of the woods.

         Those first introductory experiences often erupt in long conversations with friends about “is he the one?”  The delight of sitting In his shadow and allowing the relationship to grow is like the growth of faith.  Faith has questions, doubts, hopes, fears and all the aspects of getting to know the other.  Perhaps years later we look back at the growth and delight in those shadow times.  God’s love also shades us during the heat of the experiences of life.

         And yes, there is the delight of the first kiss or the first hug or the first note.  An apple tree would look unique in the woods, would be delightful to sit under in its shadow, and its fruit would be sweet to taste.  An apple tree is a nice description for the growth of relationship with a God who delights in you.  May we sit back and say a prayer of thanks that God sees us as unique, shades us, and feeds.  Thank you Lord.