This week we looked at various ways Moses used his staff to follow God’s orders. He raised it over Egypt for the plagues. He raised it over the Red Sea and it parted. He raised it to bring water from rocks for the people in the desert. The stick, a piece of a tree, was not magical. It has become a symbol of Moses trusting God’s promises and instructions to him and moving forward. I thought of this old hymn written by Jean Sophia Pigott in 1876 in Ireland. It reminds me of the quiet times we spend in the morning, perhaps resting under a tree to contemplate our relationship with God, perhaps resting in our favorite arm-chair to pray, or perhaps like Moses, walking in a desert when we see a bush that does not become consumed. We take a few moments to reflect on God and listen for his voice. We place our trust in God and find a deeper peace. The story goes that Hudson Taylor during the Boxer Rebellion in China upon hearing of missionary stations being destroyed and missionaries being martyred, sat at his desk and sang this hymn over and over to comfort his soul. I pray as you listen you will be comforted on your journey today.
Acts 18: 1-11
“Do not be afraid.” I love those words. Fear seems so real and is so crippling! I sometimes think “fear” is my middle name. My confirmation verse was Isaiah 41:10 that opens, “So do not fear, for I am with you.”
Paul has now traveled from Athens to Corinth in today’s reading and Paul is reunited with Timothy and Silas. Again we see a pattern in Paul’s life. He starts sharing in the synagogue. Some Jews and Gentiles believe and others object. Paul moves his place of sharing to the home of Titius Crispus, a worshipper of God, who lived next door. Paul himself must have recognized the pattern and feared that mobs, beatings and prison were about to unfold. We sometimes think Paul was a super believer and never doubted but this little scene shows us a human fearing the future and a God who reaches out to him to comfort and assure him. It is a tender moment looking at the process of spiritual growth.
“One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision; ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not b silent. For I am with you and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’”
I do not know what fears plague you today. Perhaps the mistakes of the past will side swipe you in the future. Maybe the secrets of the past will become known. Someone who out performs you in an area you are proud of may come on the scene. Then there are the fears from the outside forces of disease or politics. Some of us grieve loss and fear we will not be strong to carry on. God comes to us and comforts us that he knows, he sees and he is walking with us into and through our future. “Do not fear, I am with you,” says the Lord. Thank you. Blessings as you face your fears with the Lord.
Acts 15: 12-28
Paul and Barnabas arrive in Jerusalem to report to the elders. How is the dynamic of Gentiles coming to faith be combined with the existing Jewish believers? Should the Gentile believers be required to become Jews and accept the Mosaic law or is something new becoming evident? Sometimes we only see through a glass dimly as the future approaches. The elders in Jerusalem listen silently and recognize the bottom line. God initiated life in the Gentiles. The Gentiles demonstrated the same dynamics as the early believers showing the presence of the Holy Spirit. They referred to Scripture and saw that what was happening was fulfilling prophecy. Therefore…
The bottom line was that God was working with the Gentiles. But what was the bottom line of how to proceed. Four criteria were agreed to be basic. Do not eat food polluted by idols. Do not be involved with sexual immorality. Do not eat meat of strangled animals. And do not eat blood. These four things would be stumbling blocks to forming community. How many times do we make rules that divide and do not enhance unity?
If we were asked today what the bottom line is for us in worship, what would we say? Perhaps reflect on what you truly appreciate about your worship experience. Is it “tradition” for is it core to your faith beliefs? Lord, give us wisdom to discern what the real issues are when we disagree. Help us to see your hand working to bring people to you. Thank you for the forgiveness you have given me for my mistakes and for those who have been patient with me as I have grown in faith. Blessings!
Luke 24: 9-11
Disinformation can be defined as “false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.”
The women go to the tomb early Easter morning to anoint the body of Jesus whom they saw brutally crucified right before them. They are grieving. At the tomb, they find the stone rolled away, the body gone, and two “angels” who said that Jesus had risen. They were in shock. The women returned to the others and reported. “Nonsense” or disinformation from hysterical women?
9 When they came back from the tomb,
they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.
10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 1
1 But they did not believe the women,
because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
We have here several women returning from the tomb, reporting that the body is missing or risen. The others of their group though, did not believe them for they were women, unreliable witnesses! It sounded like nonsense.
The word “disinformation” makes us think of Jan. 6 and our present cultural battle over what happened at the event and who is to blame. Both explanations of the happenings are accusing the other versions or explanation of the event as disinformation. Why? Is it because they do not believe they are reliable witnesses? I am not taking sides here but I am pointing out that the dynamic of the Biblical story is not unique. Matthew 28 goes further to say that at the same time as the women return to the apostles and are not believed, the guards sent to guard the tomb are returning to Jerusalem and reporting to the chief priests what happened. Matthew says they were paid “a large sum of money” to spread the story that the disciples had come in the night and stolen the body. Oh my, stories are flying and who is telling the truth?
It feels awfully similar to “disinformation” claims being thrown around today. The women, the guards, and the apostles are deliberate in their stories and are trying to convince others of their version of reality. There is a public explanation of a public event that is being fought over. I see two elements in the Jan 6 and the resurrection story: the credibility of the event and the credibility of the reporters. Peter and John immediately leave to check out a story that sounds like nonsense.
Perhaps you are a “believer” in the resurrection for you have 2000 years of religious history to confirm your belief. Perhaps you are a “believer” because you too have had an encounter with the divine. Who you believe and what you believe is crucial to the values that guide your life. May we pray today to be a believable witness to our faith and not sound like nonsense to others! Blessings as you share.
Saturday we sit in silence. We know Sunday is coming with its surprises but the people at the time of the crucifixion did not. They looked out on a world that they thought was going to be rescued from Roman domination by this promising Messiah. But he didn’t. Perhaps some of us can sit and understand that feeling as we look at our world where to our horror people are being killed in Ukraine, in Uganda and in other places. Innocent children and women are caught in some leader’s fight for power. No power seems able to stop the killing. Some of us sit by the bedside of a loved one who was not healed by Jesus…but we know he could have. Some of us look out on a world that can be so beautiful…but isn’t because of global warming, pollution, and trash. And for some the ramifications of a failed marriage, a failed business enterprise, or a bad investment leave us wondering how we will face tomorrow. There are times when we cry out, “I believe, help my unbelief!”
The African American spiritual first published in 1899 by an unknown author is beloved because it captures this feeling, the deep grief of loss and more. Let us bow our heads, listen, and pray. Blessing.
This week we reflected on being strangers in this world. Peter in his first letter called his readers who are spread over five Roman provinces, “exiles.” He blesses them with “grace and peace in abundance.” He then gives them advice for dealing with times of struggle, times of isolation, and times when life seems to be going on that slippery slide down. It made me think of the song “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” sung by Johnny Cash, Burl Ives, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and others.
This American folk song was first known to be published in 1868 by an unknown writer. Some think it was based on an 1816 German hymn. The song was known during the Civil War and after as the Libby Prison Hymn named for a dying union soldier who scratched it on a Confederate prison wall in Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. The lyrics are the wail of a weary soul making his journey and focusing on the rewards of heaven. It is linked with tough times and trials as were the lives of early Christians. The version I found on YouTube is done by two Russians and gives a beautiful twist to this soul wrenching cry. Peter would tells us to not forget we are not unseen but chosen, inheritors of a living hope, people with an eternal inheritance and knowing a God who is an impartial judge not playing politics to gain our approval. God speaks the truth and he cares. We can look forward to reunion with our “mama and papa.”
It is difficult to spend a week reflecting on the epic moments in history like the Moses story in the Bible without singing the song, “Go Down Moses.” This very famous African American spiritual speaks directly to oppression and freedom and God’s goal of liberation. Many slave owners prohibited singing this song for they understood the Moses story to be speaking against slavery of all kinds.
“Go down, Moses,” was first heard being sung by “contrabands,” the name given to slaves caught running away and being held at Fort Monroe. Rev. Lewis Lockwood heard the song and translated it onto sheet music. It was then published in 1862. The Nile valley was considered lower than Jerusalem so when Moses was told by God to go to Egypt, he had to go down to Egypt. Many slaves in the underground railroad had to cross rivers and going down the Mississippi was going down into slave country. From this came the saying, to be “sold down the river.”
Core to the Christian story is the call to liberation from slavery and specifically liberation from slavery to sin. Our epic hero, God, is making a nation where people can be free and live their potential. He will make it happen. Below are two famous versions of the song for your enjoyment.
Exodus 13:17-14:31. The reader might think that the culmination of the tenth plague would settle all issues for Moses. Our epic hero, God, has shown himself more powerful than all the gods of Egypt and the people have finally started the journey to the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Sounds like a good start but the plot thickens. This fledgling “nation” reaches their first challenge, the Red Sea. It really doesn’t matter how deep the water was as some like to quibble. There is a block on the road to happiness. The wedding is over and it is not uncommon for there to be a major fight that first week of honeymoon as reality sets in. The operation is over and cancer removed by physical therapy begins and it hurts.
As the people reach the Red Sea, Pharaoh again reverses his decision and sends his army after the Israelites. There is an army bearing down on the people from one side and a “sea” to cross on the other. Sweaty palms. What will Moses do as this is a new type of challenge to his leadership and in-front of the “nation” God has entrusted him to lead? Leadership decisions need to be made and the people are close to mutiny. Families go through this often. Sunday morning and the kids aren’t so happy about going to church. Or perhaps it is a decision to move for a parent’s job but the kids are not so convinced leaving their friends and the familiar is the way to go. It is at these crisis moments that leaders have to reach within themselves and grow. Dictatorial mandates may calm the storm momentarily but it is probably fomenting under the surface.
All the formation that God has been investing in Moses now shows as Moses declares, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. (Ex. 14:13.14)” Moses reaches within himself and realizes that the God who did the miracles of the plagues, probably has another miracle up his sleeve. We call that faith. Based on our past experience with God, we trust that what is to unfold is within his ability to handle. It is one thing to know about the Bible but it is another thing to put the principles into action – to refuse to cheat, to turn the other cheek, to forgive, to leave a job that requires unethical actions from you. Stepping out in faith, defines Moses as the leader. Standing in faith is a defining moment.
So where is the challenge facing you today? We might call it our “growing edge.” If we have no challenges then perhaps we need to rethink our priorities. I note Moses does not look to his abilities but he is encouraging people to look at how God is going to solve the problem. The answer is not what he might plan as we would never have imagined parting of the sea! Often the answer comes in unexpected ways but we know God is watching and is able. He is there with us in our challenge today and he has a better way forward than we can imagine. Are we looking to him?
Exodus 12:1-42. Jews all over the world celebrate Passover every year and Christians celebrate communion frequently. Both of these deeply symbolic rituals are grounded in the celebration at the end of the tenth plague. Moses has continually confronted Pharaoh of Egypt with God’s message, “Let my people go!” Pharaoh agrees and then relents nine times. Each time God is revealed more powerful than Pharaoh or his magicians or his officials. To prepare for the night of the tenth plague the Israelites are given extensive instructions about choosing, caring for, slaughtering, and eating a goat whose blood is to be smeared on their doorposts. The angel of death will pass over any home marked with the blood of the lamb. Hence this ceremony is called Passover. After the tenth plague, Pharaoh grants the Israelites their freedom. It marks the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This story is foundational to the identity of the Israelites and is remembered and retold throughout the Bible. What is the big deal?
Oppression of God’s creation and idolatry that denies God’s authority will not be tolerated forever. The Pharaoh thought he was god and the people worshipped idols. Control over life and death was the final word, settling where real power lies, who is the real God. Pharaoh finally submits and allows the people to go worship the real God. Secondly God has now created a ritual that reminds us who we are and what God wants from us. Christians believe the blood of the doorpost foreshadowed the blood of Jesus on the cross. We believe we may live under the penalty of death but death cannot cause us to perish. Communion is the ritual we celebrate that remembers Jesus, the lamb of God, being sacrificed for our sins so we will live eternally. Our epic hero, God, has a plan to create a nation to bless all nations and here at Passover those people are beginning to emerge. They still have a long journey ahead to be molded but so do we.
We would like to think we do not have idols today but there are many things that are so very important to us – health, wealth, and prestige. We will sacrifice to secure a future for ourselves and our children. Perhaps we need to ponder for a moment if there is anything we are holding on to too tightly. I think we call it, “Put first things first.” Do we need to get our priorities right? Secondly, rituals are things we do to enact our beliefs. Do you have rituals you do regularly that teach your family and remind them who they are and what God expects of them. Communion is one of them but family prayer is another. Bedtime prayers and songs settle us down and put us in a good frame of mind as we go to sleep. Some people have special “sacred” places where they go to sort out their thinking and pray and journal. Idolatry needs to be nipped in the bud and rituals need to be nourished. Blessings as you journey.
Exodus 6:28-11:10 has been made into multiple movies telling of the encounters between Pharaoh and Moses, the kingdom of this world versus the kingdom of God. “Let my people go,” takes ten plagues. If God is God then why not just zap Pharaoh with plague ten, the death of the first-born, and let Moses lead the people to the Promised Land? It seems that is not the way an epic hero works with fragile humans and with stubborn enemies. Think, in a good movie there is usually a rescue plan that needs to be planned, executed and occupies a good part of the movie. Pharaoh was stubborn and thought he was god. Moses was new to leadership and needed to be formed. The people did not know the “I AM.” When we say “I do” at the altar or before the adoption judge, that is only a declaration of relationship but it is not the stuff that makes up relationship as we live into the reality.
As the plagues unfold, God defeats the gods of Egypt and ultimately shows himself as a real God and not Pharaoh. The Egyptians and the Hebrews witness and are immersed in the unfolding drama. The God who created the heavens and the earth that daily testify to his presence now takes on new dimensions. Moses speaks for him predicting the plagues and punishment of rejection of him. God is not just far away in the heavens but is involved in “good government” of his creation. God’s desire is liberation of his people to live in a “promised land” where they can freely worship under his guidelines that will be revealed. But God does not just zap us and make it happen. Growth is a process.
Why? God is revealing his character and God is forming people. So how does that apply to my life today? Relationships cannot be forced or dictated. The song goes “if I had never had trials, I’d never know what God can do.” It doesn’t make the troubles we go through fun or easy nor does it mean we have done something wrong. The Hebrews were not being punished for sins but were participants in an unfolding epic story that will be told for generations to come. I am challenged to ponder my story that will pass down to others. Perhaps the challenge today is to know the “I AM” better and to look for his hand working in our world. Perhaps the challenge is to reflect on how my story is forming. In either case, we are in the hands of a God who is working with the world around us and the powers that oppress us and he is working to form us into our best selves. Whew. Thank you.