God – not Guns – Will Save Us

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S (Scripture): Psalm 46

1

God is our refuge and strength,

    a help always near in times of great trouble.

That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart,

    when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea,

    when its waters roar and rage,

    when the mountains shake because of its surging waves. Selah

There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city,

    the holiest dwelling of the Most High.

God is in that city. It will never crumble.

    God will help it when morning dawns.

Nations roar; kingdoms crumble.

    God utters his voice; the earth melts.

The Lord of heavenly forces is with us!

    The God of Jacob is our place of safety. Selah

Come, see the Lord’s deeds,

    what devastation he has imposed on the earth—

    bringing wars to an end in every corner of the world,

    breaking the bow and shattering the spear,

        burning chariots with fire.

10 

“That’s enough! Now know that I am God!

    I am exalted among all nations; I am exalted throughout the world!”

11 

The Lord of heavenly forces is with us!

    The God of Jacob is our place of safety. Selah

O (Observation): Images of chaos and insecurity are all around the psalmist. Yet something brings safety and comfort:

God is our refuge and strength,

    a help always near in times of great trouble.

Whether the seas are rising, the mountains around us are crumbling, or we are under threat of attack, God has spoken, is speaking, and will speak.

Which God, you ask? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The one who claims us, the one who makes war to cease.

Our God is our Mighty Fortress.

A (Application): If you are familiar with Lutheran hymnody, you will no doubt recognize the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” which I jokingly refer to as “The Lutheran National Anthem.” I don’t denigrate the song. It is beautiful and a good reflection of Psalm 46, which Martin Luther May have used as inspiration for the nature of this hymn.

Many images from scripture are present in this hymn, but as I focus on this psalm this morning, I am reminded of the power of God over evil, ultimately.

We see historically black churches burned just recently this year (2019), all in one Louisiana parish. We have seen attacks on mosques and synagogues, active shooter situations at concerts and schools. These are the waters rising around us. Chaos pursuing us.

What do we do?

Many believe the solution is more violence, more guns. Yet this seems counter to the message of Christ.

Our God will equip us and give us what we need, ultimately. I don’t know that path, nor the means by which this will take place. But violence begets violence. This is hard to reconcile. I don’t want innocent people to be hurt, so I want to see security. Maybe that is part of the solution, but the biggest role my faith has in my life is that I will not fear. We can prepare for the worst, but I will not…I refuse to live in fear.

My God is the one who speaks and the nations melt. I will trust in God, not just guns.

I will trust that God will work in and through leaders and those trapped by evil to help the good come out of our humanity. It will be God, not guns that save us.

P (Prayer): Lord, clear our hearts and minds to make us new, to make us whole. Amen.

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Expect the Unexpected

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S (Scripture): John 20:Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” 3 Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb.

O (Observation): Confusion! Holy confusion. What was going on? Jesus was dead, that much was known. Mary and others expected Jesus’ body to be there. Instead, she is confronted with an empty tomb…stone rolled away.

Perhaps he’s been taken away???

A (Application): The moment before a significant breakthrough can be full of fear and worry. We all know that Jesus has risen, but those first few moments for Mary and the rest would have been totally disorienting. And the only thing they can think of is this: Jesus’ body was taken, maybe even to be desecrated.

What might this teach us about our hopes and dreams? Perhaps we don’t know exactly how things will turn out. Perhaps we will be surprised or fearful. No matter the circumstances, we can remain hopeful.

When night draws in and we fear the worst, perhaps we can step back and see how God may be up to something bigger and better than we could have ever expected.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us into an everlasting hope, leaning on the work you do in our baptism. Amen.

Anointing

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S (Scripture): 1 Samuel 16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long are you going to grieve over Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have found my next king among his sons.”…

5b Samuel made Jesse and his sons holy and invited them to the sacrifice as well.

6 When they arrived, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, That must be the Lord’s anointed right in front.

7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”

8 Next Jesse called for Abinadab, who presented himself to Samuel, but he said, “The Lord hasn’t chosen this one either.” 9 So Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “No, the Lord hasn’t chosen this one.” 10 Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord hasn’t picked any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Is that all of your boys?”

“There is still the youngest one,” Jesse answered, “but he’s out keeping the sheep.”

“Send for him,” Samuel told Jesse, “because we can’t proceed until he gets here.”

12 So Jesse sent and brought him in. He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking. The Lord said, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him right there in front of his brothers. The Lord’s spirit came over David from that point forward.

O (Observation): Anointing. That’s a really big deal in the Old Testament! That means you are selected by God to lead God’s people. The anointing with oil is an outward expression of God’s Spirit moving into someone’s heart, mind, and soul. It’s like a baptism. The Spirit “moves in,” so to speak.

And note that God looks upon the heart, not just outward appearance. To some, that inward look brings fear; to others, that bring hope : )

A (Application): So it’s no secret that I’m not the wisest or best looking or most charismatic member of the body of Christ. (Shocking revelation, I know.)

So to hear that God looks upon the heart is both a joy and a fear, with the joy WAY outweighing my fears.

As I discern my place in God’s Kingdom, I see lots of ways that I fail. Yet, the failures are a mix of things: failure to God, failure to self, failure to family, failure to congregation I serve. And yet, more often than not, those fears are unfounded. And as God’s Spirit dwells within me, and as I think back to the fact that I was once marked with oil on my head, I am given all the grace I need.

I know that in my baptism God started a calling in me to love God and neighbor. I will rest in that assurance, and do my best to let God take away my fears. I will lean into my anointing.

P (Prayer): Moving Spirit, guide me…point out the grade all around me. Amen.

God…Are You There?

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S (Scripture): Psalm 106

3 

The people who uphold justice,

who always do what is right, are truly happy!

4 

Remember me, Lord, with the favor you show your people.

Visit me with your saving help

5 

so I can experience the good things your chosen ones experience,

so I can rejoice in the joy of your nation,

so I can praise along with your possession.

O (Observation): This author wants to praise God just like everyone else. What’s stopping him? Why is she worried about being able to praise God?

Maybe this is it:

I want joy and I want God to show up! You’re there / here…right, God?

A (Application): Isolation…Worry…Fear. These things are real. We all experience them in some way. Some experience this in a very real and traumatic way. Some folks can just handle it and go on. This doesn’t make one of these groups better than the other…just different.

Let us be watchful and walk alongside the hurting ones.

P (Prayer): Lord, remind us that you are indeed with us every step of the way. Amen.

When the Paycheck Doesn’t Come

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S (Scripture): Psalm 89

46

How long will it last, Lord?

Will you hide yourself forever?

How long will your wrath burn like fire?

47

Remember how short my life is!

Have you created humans for no good reason?

48

Who lives their life without seeing death?

Who is ever rescued from the grip of the grave?Selah

49

Where now are your loving acts

from long ago, my Lord—

the same ones you promised to David

by your own faithfulness?

50

Remember your servant’s abuse, my Lord!

Remember how I bear in my heart

all the insults of the nations,

51

the ones your enemies, Lord, use—

the ones they use to abuse

every step your anointed one takes.

52

Bless the Lord forever!

Amen and Amen!

O (Observation): Well…things don’t seem to be going so well for this psalmist. Like the world’s falling apart around him or her. This one seems troubled, as if the world is crashing down around them. And this trouble is about being conquered by a neighboring nation.

I almost hear an assumption that a life in God is meant to be without suffering or pain…and yet, here is pain and suffering.

A (Application): Juggling with work or purpose can tear us apart. If we are working, and we can’t quite find what we need…we can feel the weight, the burdens of this life. Pressure. Steady, unrelenting pressure.

We must produce! That is the mantra we Americans live by. We show our worth by what we produce in the next paycheck.

Yet, when the paycheck doesn’t come. When the child gets sick. When the parent’s dementia worsens. When we lose a loved one. We can feel defeated…just as the psalmist feels defeated.

Because we can’t see God through the pain and suffering.

But in those moments – however great or small – realize this: God is with you. God is not causing the pain or suffering, but God is with you.

God is with you through inspirational moments – like a ray of light shining through the clouds. Like a thought that inspires you to try something new. Like a new relationship that will guide you into a new connection for potential employment. Like a friend who knows a friend who has a job opening. Like a choppy sea that has been calmed.

We can and we will doubt along the way, but God will not doubt. Nor will God leave you. Even in the midst of your great pain. Allow God to bear the pain with you. And your burden will be light.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see you. Help us to reach out our hands and welcome the gifts that you bring us: time, grace, vision. Surround us with your peace. Amen.

Moving Through the Fear

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S (Scripture): Mark 4:35 Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” 36 They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along.

37 Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. 38 But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”

39 He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. 40 Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?”

41 Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”

O (Observation): Jesus felt the crowd pushing in, so he and the disciples got out on a boat so that Jesus could talk to the crowd from out on the water. Their next move – that evening – was to cross the Sea of Galilee to head into Gentile territory and to other encounters.

Jesus crossed loads of boundaries, but even before they fully cross the sea, they encounter another border – the winds and storms churning up the sea. Jesus is asleep, while the disciples are fearing for their very lives! Doesn’t Jesus care? Of course he does…he’s just not afraid.

Jesus tells the storm to muzzle itself. It does. Then, they were overcome with awe at Jesus. In this case, awe could also be “fear.” They feared Jesus. (Not in a horror-film sense…but in a “he ain’t from around here” sense.) Like…he just might be what he proclaims to be – the Son of God!

And in their fear…they still follow…

A (Application): Fear is not necessarily the opposite of faith. Although cowardice could be a lack of faith.

We may fear the Lord…but that may be irrelevant. The point is this: what do we do in the face of that fear? Dr. Meda Stamper (Minister, PCUSA) says this:

“What seems to matter is what we do in spite of or because of that awe (of the Lord).”

We have moments / days / weeks / months / years in which we may be fearful. Yet we are encouraged to move forward. Fear is a liar. Fear makes us false prophets. Fear challenges our faith. And yet, laying down our lives, moving through the fear… into the unknown…that can be transformative.

More from Dr. Meda Stamper:

Even when we make it through the storms, following Jesus may well take us straight into encounters with the worst pain and suffering of the world, the places where Jesus’ powerful touch is most needed.

And

crossing to the other side at Jesus’ command may try our faith, but it also puts us in a position to experience the stilling of our storms, the restoration of the broken and the marginalized, and the transformation of death to life.

P (Prayer): Lord, carry us through our fears. Show us the transformative power of your Kingdom…turning death into life…fear into hope. Amen.

Lead With Love

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S (Scripture): 1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love because God first loved us. 20 If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. 21 This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.

O (Observation): The community of 1 John is seeking to be a true community of followers of Jesus. In doing so, they are working out what that means, practically. They conclude that when one has faith to believe in and love God, one also will love their brother and sister. (Is that a brother or sister in Christ, or any brother or sister in the world? Not sure.)

Fear will not lead their decision making nor how they view their relationships. Love will define their words and actions.

A (Application): I once heard someone say, “Sometimes, the worst part about being a Christian can be…other Christians!” How true!

I know many Christians with whom I disagree. I know of many who think what I write and speak of is leading the flock astray and helping to condemn souls.

What will lead our relationships? Hopefully, love, and not fear. With love, we can start to see one another as brother and sister. When fear leads, we see a false future. When love is our lead, we see the best in one another. When Love is our lead, we see each other as God sees us.

Let’s choose love first. After all, God does.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see through the eyes of love. Amen.