Like Falling in Love

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S (Scripture): Mark 13:14 [Jesus says: ] “When you see the disgusting and destructive thing standing where it shouldn’t be (the reader should understand this), then those in Judea must escape to the mountains. 15 Those on the roof shouldn’t come down or enter their houses to grab anything. 16 Those in the field shouldn’t come back to grab their clothes. 17 How terrible it will be at that time for women who are pregnant and for women who are nursing their children. 18 Pray that it doesn’t happen in winter. 19 In those days there will be great suffering such as the world has never before seen and will never again see. 20 If the Lord hadn’t shortened that time, no one would be rescued. But for the sake of the chosen ones, the ones whom God chose, he has cut short the time.

21 “Then if someone says to you, ‘Look, here’s the Christ,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. 22 False christs and false prophets will appear, and they will offer signs and wonders in order to deceive, if possible, those whom God has chosen. 23 But you, watch out! I’ve told you everything ahead of time.”

O (Observation): What frightening words to be heard by those who follow Jesus and are assured of the grace of God!

This text seems to be a great way to make certain that God’s people are both assured of God’s love for them AND – at the same time – to make sure that God’s people are not falling asleep as Christians in the world. To both be assured and to stay awake!

The promise is that Jesus the Christ will come again. The time will seem perilous to those who experience Jesus’ return, but Jesus will be known again as he truly is….not just in bread and wine.

A (Application): Falling in love creates an alluring and also terrifying reaction in a person: alluring, because love is sensational, and yet frightening, because you want to to be ready to respond to the other in just the right way at any given moment.

This is like awaiting the parousia (the return of Christ). We anticipate what Jesus’ return will be like; we speak of his return in the creeds we speak and in the bread and wine. But he will come fully, one day.

And Jesus’ day of return might be a million years from now…or a thousand…or a hundred… or…today?

We don’t know. So, in this text, we are encouraged to be comforted and yet set on edge. That we should not worry, yet we can be prepared for his coming.

Anticipation. Like falling in love all over again. Or for the first time. Be ready. Receive grace. Receive the Lord.

P (Prayer): Lord, we may be nervous, but your Spirit – your Advocate – prepares us. Amen.

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Bound Together for Ministry

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S (Scripture): Numbers 11:10 Moses heard the people crying throughout their clans, each at his tent’s entrance. The Lord was outraged, and Moses was upset. 11 Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? And why haven’t I found favor in your eyes, for you have placed the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give birth to them, that you would say to me, ‘Carry them at the breast, as a nurse carries an unweaned child,’ to the fertile land that you promised their ancestors? 13 Where am I to get meat for all these people? They are crying before me and saying, ‘Give us meat, so we can eat.’ 14 I can’t bear this people on my own. They’re too heavy for me. 15 If you’re going to treat me like this, please kill me. If I’ve found favor in your eyes, then don’t let me endure this wretched situation.”

16 The Lord said to Moses, “Gather before me seventy men from Israel’s elders, whom you know as elders and officers of the people. Take them to the meeting tent, and let them stand there with you. 17 Then I’ll descend and speak with you there. I’ll take some of the spirit that is on you and place it on them. Then they will carry the burden of the people with you so that you won’t bear it alone…”

O (Observation): Moses is fed up with God and the people, because he feels all the weight of the people’s complaints squarely on his own shoulders…and he only has God to blame! Moses complains to God: “Where am I gonna get meat for them to eat?! These are YOUR people, God, not mine! Just kill me now, if this is what leadership looks like!”

God encourages Moses and tells him to gather everyone in the worship space. There, God will share the burden on Moses with 70 of the leaders in the community. They will do ministry TOGETHER! And God will provide the meat.

A (Application): As a seminary student, I was challenged with finding a story or person from Scripture that shaped my call into ministry as an ordained minister (aka “pastor”). I chose Numbers 11.

I chose this passage because it reminds me that I as I venture into all sorts of ministries, God will make sure that I am surrounded by those who are called to share the burden along with me.

In each venture into ministry (whether as a pastor or in the community) I have felt alone and abandoned…only to have the Spirit remind me that I am part of the BODY of Christ in which others are being called to come together to work with me.

And as I grow in faith, God has brought others outside of the body of Christ to share burdens with me. Burdens of the poor and the marginalized in our society.

Christ is still my savior and inspiration…and this has moved me to seek God out for strength and sustenance as I venture into the varied callings God has set out for me.

I am blessed.

P (Prayer): Lord, bind us together in love. Amen.

Changing Perspective

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S (Scripture): Mark 12:41 Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money. 42 One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny.43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. 44  All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”

O (Observation): Jesus was all about reexamining the understanding of the Kingdom of God. Did God care more about the amount someone put in the offering plate? Or that someone was sensing that this money is first and foremost God’s money?

(Remember a few verses ago when Jesus was asked about paying taxes? How did he respond? Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Give to God what is God’s. Reevaluating. Perspective. One must struggle with what belongs to God.)

How was Jesus changing the perspective of the Kingdom for his disciples in this observation regarding the widow?

What is valuable in the Kingdom? What is valuable in the world?

A (Application): So money is an obvious connection here. My wife and I struggled to reach a point where we acknowledged that the money we have is indeed a gift from God. As such, we give 10% of our income. The weird thing is that as we reached this point, I feel like our capacity to give has increased even more! The perspective changed from “How do we get to 10%?” to “how does God seem to magnify the margin in my life?”

I think this is all about perspective. What is God’s? And in a way that is joyful, we have responded to God’s call to see that our finances are God’s.

Now, I am in a situation where I have money to give. (Odd perspective since I still have student loans…but God has moved us…).

So, what about those who have very little? Well…let’s remember perspective. If someone has less money…what can they do? They can also choose to discern – for themselves – what they can give. If it’s 1%, or 5%, or 50%…if that is what they sense is God’s…then so be it. (That’s not snarky…it’s acknowledging what God is up to in our lives.)

Please don’t take my application as a judgment based on amounts or percentages. Rather, I encourage you to know that God’s Kingdom is different than that of this world. Don’t let anyone tell you that your gift of time or money or resources is yours to exploit.

The world places expectations on our money and time. I encourage you to discern how to use the gifts you have for God’s Kingdom. You have to decide what that looks like for you and yours.

P (Prayer): God, take my life that I may be consecrated Lord for thee. Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise. Amen.

The Jesus Way

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S (Scripture): (A little more verses than I normally use, but important for the point that strikes me today.)

Mark 11:27 Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem again. As Jesus was walking around the temple, the chief priests, legal experts, and elders came to him. 28 They asked, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”

29 Jesus said to them, “I have a question for you. Give me an answer, then I’ll tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things. 30  Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin? Answer me.”

31 They argued among themselves, “If we say, ‘It’s of heavenly origin,’ he’ll say, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But we can’t say, ‘It’s of earthly origin.’” They said this because they were afraid of the crowd, because they all thought John was a prophet. 33 They answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you what kind of authority I have to do these things.”

12:1 Jesus spoke to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the winepress, and built a tower. Then he rented it to tenant farmers and took a trip. 2 When it was time, he sent a servant to collect from the tenants his share of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they grabbed the servant, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again the landowner sent another servant to them, but they struck him on the head and treated him disgracefully. 5 He sent another one; that one they killed. The landlord sent many other servants, but the tenants beat some and killed others. 6 Now the landowner had one son whom he loved dearly. He sent him last, thinking, They will respect my son. 7 But those tenant farmers said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 They grabbed him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

9 “So what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10  Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 11 The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes?”

12 They wanted to arrest Jesus because they knew that he had told the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.

O (Observation): Normally, when we read scripture, the chapter numbers take on more meaning than they should. Notice that the transition from chapter 11 to 12 is not a change of setting or audience. The leaders of the church are trying to trap Jesus into an answer regarding his authority: if he says this is on God’s authority, perhaps Jesus will expose himself to criticism or if he does this ministry on his own authority, they can dismiss him.

Point is, they don’t see Jesus as being in line with God’s mission for the world.

But Jesus’ way is not to directly respond to the questions of those in authority. Instead, he turns the tables and asks the church leaders a question about authority. He makes them think. He exposes their desires. They just want to stay in power. So they are concerned with their own worldly authority gained by their position…not by the influence that God has on people through faith.

The parable Jesus shares seems to place Jesus in a long line of messengers, of which he is the Son, and John is one of the many prophets whom God has sent to God’s people. The prophets of old came before John. Jesus’ authority comes as one who is sent from God. God has been sending messengers to God’s people for a loooong, long time. And God’s worldly leaders have missed the messages time and time again.

Jesus never got defensive. Jesus didn’t attack his enemy. He simply bounced questions back and made people think…rather than just follow a doctrine or theology. Jesus asked people to discern their role in God’s mission in the world.

This is Jesus’ Way.

A (Application): How often do you find yourself following a theology…”just because”?

Probably quite a bit.

We all do it. We all fight off the landowner’s messengers and offspring coming back to collect and see how things are going. We fight off those with prophetic voices, because we don’t want to have our theology challenged. We’ve worked hard to get where we are. We are settled on lots of issues that have come to our attention. We don’t need to dust things up.

But as each day passes, we are called to reassess who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do. How? Through prayer, meditation, studying Scripture. By bouncing ideas off of close friends and loved ones. By going out into the world to walk with your neighbors of all differing identities. In this way, you will receive the Spirit’s guidance.

The authority will be God’s.

This is Jesus’ Way.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us and help us to bear fruit for your Kingdom. Amen.

God Rules, but not like “that”

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S (Scripture): Psalm 66

1

Shout joyfully to God, all the earth!

Sing praises to the glory of God’s name!

Make glorious his praise!

Say to God:

“How awesome are your works!

Because of your great strength,

your enemies cringe before you.

All the earth worships you,

sings praises to you,

sings praises to your name!” Selah

Come and see God’s deeds;

his works for human beings are awesome:

He turned the sea into dry land

so they could cross the river on foot.

Right there we rejoiced in him!

God rules with power forever;

keeps a good eye on the nations.

So don’t let the rebellious exalt themselves.

O (Observation): This kind of psalm is a great way to celebrate God’s handiwork. God has rescued God’s people from slavery and this is most certainly to be celebrated. God’s work for humans is indeed glorious.

A (Application): And yet I can see how these kinds of words can be interpreted in our modern day context about how God MUST be obeyed by all nations and that all nations MUST submit to God. This is a very dangerous attitude, for God’s wisdom is beyond ours!

We think that we can capture God’s will with certainty, and start to apply these Scriptures in our country of America. We can start to assume that God is for “my” country. Did we actually corner the market on “God”?

I think we have a lot to learn, a lot of humility to express, and still need to spend a lot of time in prayer and conversation. If not, we will continue to harm many people in our country of America, and others across the globe.

God does rule, but not as a tyrant that disciplines lack of faith. God does rule, but not with weapons of destruction. God does set us free, not to prove we are the strongest, but so that we might spend our days having compassion on others and be about the work of lifting up others.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us wisdom to know our place and to discern your will. Amen.

A Liturgical Lesson

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S (Scripture): Numbers 6:22 The Lord spoke to Moses: 23 Tell Aaron and his sons: You will bless the Israelites as follows. Say to them:

24  The Lord bless you and protect you.

25  The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.

26  The Lord lift up his face to you and grant you peace.

27 They will place my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

O (Observation): This 3-fold blessing is not something that some church leader made up a few years ago. This is a blessing handed down from God to Moses for Aaron and the other priests to use to bless the Israelites.

This is a big deal.

A (Application): We use much scripture in worship as a Lutheran congregation of the ELCA. More than you might think.

As we change some of our liturgy based on the church liturgical calendar, we incorporate the worship texts throughout each season into the words of our prayers and blessing or in our confession and forgiveness, and more.

The hymns also reflect certain scriptures, and typically reflect the season of the Church calendar and messages given through the sermon.

But when we need a tried and true blessing…we can go all the way back to Moses and Aaron.

P (Prayer): Lord, as you provide the words of blessing, help us to know we are in your ever-loving care. Amen.

Along the Way

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S (Scripture): Mark 10:46 Jesus and his followers came into Jericho. As Jesus was leaving Jericho, together with his disciples and a sizable crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, Timaeus’ son, was sitting beside the road. 47 When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was there, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!” 48 Many scolded him, telling him to be quiet, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, show me mercy!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him forward.”

They called the blind man, “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.”

50 Throwing his coat to the side, he jumped up and came to Jesus.

51 Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.”

52 Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” At once he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus on the way.

O (Observation): Jesus’ followers acknowledge a blind man, Bartimaeus, on the side of the road…calling out for the Son of David, Jesus Christ, to have mercy on him.

The crowd following Jesus, which included his disciples, tried to hush the man and dismiss him. They couldn’t be bothered. They were “on the way.”

Yet Jesus calls on Bartimaeus to be brought forward. Now the crowd encourages him.

Can’t they make up their mind? Discourage the blind man or encourage him. Either way, the man’s persistence pays off. And what is the result of Jesus healing the man? The man is now following Jesus along the way.

A (Application): How many times have you missed the opportunity to receive grace? Maybe you couldn’t find the strength to shout out to Jesus to help you.

How many times have others (from within the Church) silenced you or made you feel unworthy?

Somehow, through faith (made possible by the Holy Spirit dwelling in you) and through a supportive community of believers all around you, you can receive Jesus’ mercy.

You can be moved from sitting on the side of the road to becoming one who follows Jesus along the way. From the side of the road, to the journey with Jesus.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us faith and courage to cry out to Jesus. Surround us with a loving faith community. Amen.