Are We There Yet?

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S (Scripture): Matthew 24:32 Jesus said to the disciples: “Learn this parable from the fig tree. After its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 In the same way, when you see all these things, you know that the Human One is near, at the door. 34 I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.

36 “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows.”

O (Observation): The community of believers are growing restless in terms of seeing the Kingdom come. They believed that they would see The End and the fullness of God’s glory in the Kingdom Come.

So, Jesus gives them some context: Others will come and say they are me, but they won’t be me; all are encouraged to endure any suffering done on account of Jesus’ name; the heavens will shake; a trumpet will sound. All of these will take place. You won’t miss it!

And in the meantime, says Jesus, stay alert. You keep an eye on the fig tree; so, too, keep an eye out for my return. Be alert. Be ready.

No one knows when this will all occur.

A (Application): We are not happy without deadlines. Well, some folks are happy with no deadlines…no deadline, no pressure…but also, no results.

With a deadline, we at least know what we are working towards. Now, we may not complete the project, but at least we will have this outside force (the deadline) on which to base our current activity: if the deadline is soon, we ramp up activity…if the deadline is far off, we can wait and relax.

Jesus is preparing the people in Matthew’s community to be ready at all times! They do not have a deadline (we do not have a deadline), but the signs will appear…but even with their appearance, no one knows exactly when all of this will usher in the Kingdom.

So, like we tell our children, get the chores and such done now. Completing those chores now mean more opportunities later on for us to serve or relax or embrace life or a new project.

Let us be ready. Let us be about the work of the Kingdom: using our gifts where the world needs them. Let’s do this until Kingdom come.

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us that we are always working towards the good of the world, regardless of the timing of your coming again. Amen.


“Lean On Me,” says Jesus

S (Scripture): Matthew 24:1 Now Jesus left the temple and was going away. His disciples came to point out to him the temple buildings. 2 He responded, “Do you see all these things? I assure that no stone will be left on another. Everything will be demolished.”

3 Now while Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?”

4 Jesus replied, “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the Christ.’ They will deceive many people. 6 You will hear about wars and reports of wars. Don’t be alarmed. These things must happen, but this isn’t the end yet. 7 Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other, and there will be famines and earthquakes in all sorts of places. 8 But all these things are just the beginning of the sufferings associated with the end. 9 They will arrest you, abuse you, and they will kill you. All nations will hate you on account of my name. 10 At that time many will fall away. They will betray each other and hate each other. 11 Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because disobedience will expand, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be delivered. 14 This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all the nations. Then the end will come.

O (Observation): Christology. Eschatology. Discipleship.

Christology – Jesus declares his place in the cosmos. He is the anointed one, not others who will claim that title.

Eschatology – The end will come and much dismay will ensue. But in the end, Jesus will bring salvation and hope to those who remain faithful. This Gospel will be proclaimed and will be a sign of hope for all the world.

Discipleship – What to do in the meantime… Remain faithful, as the Spirit has enabled you. Discipleship comes with challenges, and yet is a blessed venture.

A (Application): The end of all things may seem scary, but as Jesus reminds us, Good News will prevail. Trials and tribulations? Maybe. But we know that the Good News of the Kingdom will reign.

Having a deep challenge right now? Is the end of your world near (actually or metaphorically)? Hang tight. Lean on the hope that Jesus travels with you. You are not alone.

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us that we are in your capable hands. Amen.

Interpret This!

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S (Scripture): Exodus 21:20 When a slave owner hits a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner should be punished. 21 But if the slave gets up after a day or two, the slave owner shouldn’t be punished because the slave is the owner’s property.

22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage but no other injury occurs, then the guilty party will be fined what the woman’s husband demands, as negotiated with the judges. 23 If there is further injury, then you will give a life for a life, 24 an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, 25 a burn for a burn, a bruise for a bruise, a wound for a wound.

O (Observation): God’s people have just received the 10 Commandments and are still living into life as freed people – freed from Egyptian enslavement, yet they still have slavery within their own system.

These words are a shock to the modern hearer. Slavery has long been outlawed in our modern time, but in the time this text was written, slavery was a reality. If you owed someone, you were in their debt and had to work off the debt.

As a slave, you were property.

In regards to “eye for an eye,” it seems that the words here are meant for restricting punishment, rather than “getting even” with someone. In other words, let the punishment not exceed the harm done.

In both cases, I wish to lift up the importance of seeing the Scriptures through the eyes of Jesus. I could take these scriptures and support getting even with our neighbor and I could twist the words to justify slavery. Yet…as a follower of Jesus, I cannot accept those interpretations.

As one who follows the ways of Jesus, I look at the Scriptures through the “lens” of Jesus – his words and actions.

Instead of enslavement, he wishes folks would be set free and forgiven of their debts. Instead of getting even, Jesus says, “Turn the other cheek.”

A (Application): How we interpret Scripture is very important and has led to major schisms within the Church. To those outside the Church…perhaps they see hypocrisy amid the actions of those inside the Church.

What lens are we using to interpret scripture? We all come to the Scriptures with some kind of pre-conceived notions of what we are reading. Do I read Exodus in the same way I read the Gospels…and the Psalms?

One of my notions is to read the Scriptures (all of it) through the lens of “Jesus.” What does that mean? Any interpretation that counters the words and actions of Jesus is no longer a valid interpretation FOR OUR TIME. What if Jesus was silent on a subject? I do my best (along with the Church) to interpret the reading as Jesus might have.

Basically, we cannot simply “forget Jesus” in our interpretation of any Scriptures (even those that come after Jesus in time).

We forget this important step all the time: look at the readings through the lens of Jesus. We think that simply because we read it from the Bible, it must be able to be lifted cleanly and without interpretation.

Some suggestions: don’t ONLY read the Scriptures alone. Personal reflection is great, don’t get me wrong…just be sure to include others in your discernment from time to time…or attend worship where others are helping to interpret the scriptures. And if you’ve spent enough time reading up on devotions and other people’s reflections on the scriptures, you are certainly not reading “alone,” for you are carrying the thoughts of others with you as you read.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see clearly your words in the Scriptures. Amen.


The Gold on the Altar

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S (Scripture): Matthew 23:16 Jesus said to the legal experts and Pharisees, “How terrible it will be for you blind guides who say, ‘If people swear by the temple, it’s nothing. But if people swear by the gold in the temple, they are obligated to do what they swore.’ 17 You foolish and blind people! Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold holy? 18 You say, ‘If people swear by the altar, it’s nothing. But if they swear by the gift on the altar, they are obligated to do what they swore.’ 19 You blind people! Which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift holy? 20 Therefore, those who swear by the altar swear by it and by everything that’s on it. 21 Those who swear by the temple swear by it and by everything that’s part of it. 22 Those who swear by heaven swear by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”

O (Observation): Jesus is caught up in straightening out the misguided thoughts of those who established and interpreted the laws for the Jewish people: the Pharisees. Many things the Pharisees do (and have done) frustrates Jesus, as he saw these legal experts contorting the laws of God towards selfish and self-serving means.

Jesus saw that the Pharisees were constantly navigating adventures in missing the point.

The gold in the Temple – as beautiful and attractive as it was – was not the point. The point was the reason for the special nature of the Temple and the altars upon which the gold resides: God promises to be present in the Temple around the altar.

If you make a solemn oath at the Temple, you don’t swear by the gold, but you swear to the one for whom the gold exists: God!

A (Application): What is the gold upon which we pledge loyalty in our congregations? Is it the carpet or the walls or the decorations or the lack of decorations? What do we get caught up in?

What is the most important part of our worship space? Font? Altar? Pews?

What makes our buildings holy? Is it the stone or marble floors or stained glass windows?

All of these things can help…but let us not infer that the “stuff” that makes up our worship spaces – as beautiful as it all is – ever takes the place of the fact that where we are when we worship and confess and receive forgiveness… is Holy Ground. And it is such, not because we wear the right stuff or hang the right pictures. That ground is Holy Ground, because when we gather in the name of the Lord, God promises to be present. And that is all we ever need.

P (Prayer): Lord, strip us of all pretense and make our gathering spaces holy. Amen.


What’s More Important: God or Neighbor?

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S (Scripture): Matthew 22:34 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. 35 One of them, a legal expert, tested him. 36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

O (Observation): How essential are these words from Jesus? Not only does he establish the most important principles for the life of a God-follower, but he does so using commandments that have existed since God’s people were set free from Egypt.

The law-keepers (the Pharisees) think they can trap Jesus into picking one Law above others so that they can trap him into an argument that will expose a weakness in him. They may be expecting him to erase the Law and come up with his own command apart from God.

Much to the dismay of the Pharisees, Jesus does not eradicate the commands of God, but reinforces them. Jesus takes the commands that God’s people have twisted and corrupted for their own advantage, and has reset them as the main thing for all who look to God.

A (Application): How often have we in the church hurt people because of some basic routines and rituals we go through when preparing for worship or education or fellowship? How often have we said, “Oh, we don’t do it that way” or “That’s nice, but let me show you how we do it.” We can learn from one another…that is my hope.

Leaning on the former ways is okay, as long as it doesn’t shut out a new way of thinking about something.

And how many times have we (as the Christian Church) shut out and hurt those who have not “fit the mold” of our “normal” Church-goer expectations? How often have we said or acted in ways contrary to Jesus’ words to love our neighbor?

Instead, many have latched on to the idea that “Loving God” takes precedence OVER “Loving neighbor.” Many have taken the stance that “Loving neighbor” means pointing out “their sin” and lifting up “The Truth.” Aren’t I loving them by helping to correct them and show them the Truth? (No! You’re just being a jerk!)

We all fall short of the glory of God. We all need repentance. And we all can love God and love neighbor by humbly respecting others and listening to one another.

Jesus didn’t say “Love the Truth with your whole heart,” he said “Love the Lord your God…and your neighbor as yourself.”

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to re-gain focus on the central tenets of loving you and our neighbor. Amen.


To Whom Do We Belong?

The entirety of the Observation and Application sections are copied and pasted from a preaching resource page, and are solely the words of Clayton Schmit, via, on October 16,2011. I have only added the Prayer for today. Please be sure to credit the link in the previous sentence for any references and / or credit.

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S (Scripture): Matthew 22:15 Then the Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. 16 They sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. 17 So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18 Knowing their evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked.

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” 22 When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed.

O (Observation): Here we have the failed attempt by the Pharisees and Herodians to trap Jesus on what appears to be a political issue: whether or not it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. We might imagine the smugness with which they employ this trap. The Pharisees are against the Roman occupation government, so they bring along the Herodians, people obliged to Rome for keeping Herod in puppet power.

Jesus seems to carry no coins. The Pharisees dare not carry Roman coins, for they bear the blasphemous image of Tiberius Caesar and the inscription proclaims him divine. Yet, when Jesus asks for a Roman coin, they readily provide it. There, in the sacred space of the temple, the Pharisees possess the idolatrous image.

The Pharisees are thinking two moves ahead in this game. If Jesus says that it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, he alienates the people who hate the Roman occupation and its Caesar. If he says it is unlawful to pay taxes, the people will be pleased, but Jesus will then be liable for arrest by the Romans.

A clever gambit. But, not clever enough. Jesus asks them whose inscription is on the coin. Caesar, they answer. Then render to the emperor what is due him, he says, and to God what belongs to God. Checkmate.

A (Application): But this is not just a game; and the teaching reaches far beyond those who first heard it. It reaches even to our time. As much as we might like to determine Jesus’ attitude about taxes today, or the way governments do their business, our narrative makes it clear that Jesus has greater concerns in mind.

Governments are necessary, taxes may be necessary, and every country has a Caesar of sorts to contend with. So, render unto that Caesar whatever is due. But, don’t mess around with the things that belong to God.

Whom do we belong to? Sometimes it seems like we belong to Caesar. Taxes, legal restrictions on our freedoms, imprisonment if you engage in civil disobedience. Or, perhaps, we feel that our job owns us. Or our families. Sometimes, we even feel owned by our material possessions. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it: “Things are in the saddle, and ride mankind.”

It is God who claims us, who made us in his own image. We do not belong to anything or to anyone else. We don’t even belong to ourselves. We belong to God in all our being, with all our talents, interests, time, and wealth. “We give thee but thine own, whatever the gift my be. All that we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from thee.”

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us that all that we have is yours…even our very being. Remind us that we are to give ourselves food enter betterment of this world. Amen.


God Leads the Way

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S (Scripture): Exodus 13:17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God didn’t lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, even though that was the shorter route. God thought, “If the people have to fight and face war, they will run back to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people by the roundabout way of the Reed Sea desert. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt ready for battle. 19 Moses took with him Joseph’s bones just as Joseph had made Israel’s sons promise when he said to them, “When God takes care of you, you must carry my bones out of here with you.” 20 They set out from Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. 21 The Lord went in front of them during the day in a column of cloud to guide them and at night in a column of lightning to give them light. This way they could travel during the day and at night. 22 The column of cloud during the day and the column of lightning at night never left its place in front of the people.

O (Observation): A reminder by Joseph – “When God takes care of you” – has multiple applications here. First, God has rescued God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Second, as they are set free, so too are they protected with a pillar of cloud by day and lightning by night (though I’ve always read “fire” at night… interesting to ponder).

Joseph knew of God’s promise of old. Moses knows God’s promise for the future.

A (Application): So, what is your pillar of cloud by day and pillar of lighting by night? Have you sensed God’s comfort in any way? God’s protection?

What do these things look like for you?

For me, the protection comes in the form of a caring family, trusted colleagues, and the plethora of continuing education options available to me. I am protected…and that also includes ways that I cannot yet see.

P (Prayer): Lord, we seek your protection. Help us to see it all around us. Amen.