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S (Scripture): Psalm 49

10 

Everyone knows that the wise die too,

    just like foolish and stupid people do,

        all of them leaving their fortunes to others.

11 

Their graves are their eternal homes,

    the place they live for all generations,

        even if they had counties named after them!

12 

People won’t live any longer because of wealth;

    they’re just like the animals that pass away.

O (Observation): The psalmist is sick and tired of those with self-elevated status. Money and “wisdom” seem to be the hallmark for a great life. Money and wisdom are okay if used for mutual uplifting. But when money and wisdom are used to declare one’s self great…not so much.

What will one do with all wisdom and riches upon their death? Nothing!

Sure, you can leave a name and have a town or road named after you, but what can you enjoy in this life if you are not around to enjoy it?

A (Application): Why do we have the gifts of money and wisdom? If you could lay out the ideal response to having wealth and wisdom, what would that look like?

Ever thought of this?

Let’s make it simple: what do you do with the “wealth and wisdom” you have now? We like to dream about what we will do “when…”.

What if you stopped dreaming about when “that” time comes and started taking action TODAY!

You have gifts and you are a person who can do wondrous things. Money, wisdom…what are they for? As you wrestle with that question, ask yourself, “How can I serve others?”

You may advance your learning and training to make an impact. You may use wisdom to ask questions and listen, rather than just speak. You may bring peace to anxious situations. The possibilities are endless!

Use the gifts you have to help others in this world, and you will receive more than you have given.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us mindful that the gifts you’ve given are not just for us. Help us to leave a legacy for others to live into. To empower others and lift up the lowly. Amen.

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Good News in Disguise

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S (Scripture): Acts 28:23b …many people came to the place where [Paul] was staying. From morning until evening, he explained and testified concerning God’s kingdom and tried to convince them about Jesus through appealing to the Law from Moses and the Prophets. 24 Some were persuaded by what he said, but others refused to believe. 25 They disagreed with each other and were starting to leave when Paul made one more statement:

“The Holy Spirit spoke correctly when he said to your ancestors through Isaiah the prophet,

26 

Go to this people and say:

You will hear, to be sure, but never understand;

    and you will certainly see but never recognize what you are seeing.

27 

This people’s senses have become calloused,

    and they’ve become hard of hearing,

    and they’ve shut their eyes

        so that they won’t see with their eyes

        or hear with their ears

        or understand with their minds,

            and change their hearts and lives that I may heal them.

28 “Therefore, be certain of this: God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles. They will listen!”

O (Observation): Paul stands trial in Rome. He does not try to escape this trial. He welcomes it, that he might share God’s Good News to all people.

Paul continues God’s direction: to the Jews first, but also to the Gentiles! That desire to reach ALL people (even the Gentiles) is blasphemous to the Jews…but God never intends to exclude. God chose Abram, and blessed him and Sarai, and so they had been the first recipients of God’s love and mercy.

That love to the people who would become the Hebrew people (the Jews) was simply the first people to receive the gift. Through these people, God would show the world what steadfast love looks like: mercy and love is extended to God’s covenant people. And God wishes for more to become part of that covenant.

Paul reminds folks using Isaiah’s words that all people who wish to receive God’s covenant love are welcome to receive it. And if the Jews don’t want it, God also gives it to the Gentiles. See if they want it : )

A (Application): When you get a gift, do you fuss if it isn’t what you wanted? Aren’t you glad you got a gift? I know I can be picky sometimes, but receiving a gift you don’t want can be tough to handle. Of course, when relating to this text, God gives us what we need, not something that will be bad for us.

Sometimes the gift we get from God, while not bad for us, may not be what we want, nor what we expect! Sometimes what God gives us goes against every fiber of our being. We reject it at times, because we don’t want to face the reality that what God gives us will inconvenience us.

God wants to give me the gift of helping to be a part of a start-up ministry to serve homeless or poor folks? Won’t that cut into my family time or free time? But aren’t I thankful for what I do have? Can’t the ministry opportunity involve my family along with me, thereby strengthening our bond as a family unit AND inspire us in our faith as a family? Is this gift really Good News or bad news?

Facing the gifts from God can look like pure joy when we are facing difficulty. Facing the same gifts from God when we are arrogant and boastful may trouble us deeply. Either way, the Good News shows up at our doorstep.

May we be humble enough to receive the gift of the Good News and see how it guides us in times of plenty and in times of want.

[Disclaimer: sometimes, bad news is just bad news. Sometimes crap just happens and we can’t explain it. So, check yourself and check with others. If we all agree there is not Good News in that gift…then it’s not Good News. Plain and simple. The point is this: not all things that seem bad that show up on our doorstep are necessarily bad. But sometimes it just is bad. Never assume. Get friend and loved ones together to help you through it.]

P (Prayer): Lord, give us wisdom to accept the Good News freely given to us all. Amen.

Ubuntu – “Humanity”

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S (Scripture): Luke 19:11 As they listened to this, Jesus told them another parable because he was near Jerusalem and they thought God’s kingdom would appear right away. 12 He said, “A certain man who was born into royalty went to a distant land to receive his kingdom and then return. 13 He called together ten servants and gave each of them money worth four months’ wages. He said, ‘Do business with this until I return.’ 14 His citizens hated him, so they sent a representative after him who said, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ 15 After receiving his kingdom, he returned and called the servants to whom he had given the money to find out how much they had earned. 16 The first servant came forward and said, ‘Your money has earned a return of one thousand percent.’ 17 The king replied, ‘Excellent! You are a good servant. Because you have been faithful in a small matter, you will have authority over ten cities.’

18 “The second servant came and said, ‘Master, your money has made a return of five hundred percent.’ 19 To this one, the king said, ‘You will have authority over five cities.’

20 “Another servant came and said, ‘Master, here is your money. I wrapped it up in a scarf for safekeeping. 21 I was afraid of you because you are a stern man. You withdraw what you haven’t deposited and you harvest what you haven’t planted.’ 22 The king replied, ‘I will judge you by the words of your own mouth, you worthless servant! You knew, did you, that I’m a stern man, withdrawing what I didn’t deposit, and harvesting what I didn’t plant? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money in the bank? Then when I arrived, at least I could have gotten it back with interest.’

24 “He said to his attendants, ‘Take his money and give it to the one who has ten times as much.’ 25  ‘But Master,’ they said, ‘he already has ten times as much!’ 26  He replied, ‘I say to you that everyone who has will be given more, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.'”

O (Observation): Jesus tells this story that seems kind of harsh. I mean, give the guy a break, no? He was smart. He hid the money.

But Jesus was addressing a specific concern here: the anticipation of God’s Kingdom coming soon.

And if God’s Kingdom is coming…then get busy using what you’ve been given!!! For the good of the whole!!!

Don’t just sit back and do nothing and say nothing because it’s the smart thing. Take the risk! See the reward! And if you fail…well, at least you tried!

A (Application): Oh Lord…how I love and hate Facebook!

We are so ready to speak, but listening is hard. We are so quick to jump to conclusions and talk past one another.

We are broken.

Heal us, Lord. Help us NOW to see the humanity in one another…that all of us are connected.

We all have immense capacity to harm one another, but (as in the parable) we are also given a gift of grace…which gives us the immense capacity to HEAL!

In Demond Tutu and Mpho Tutu’s book, The Power of Forgiving, they name this gift of shared humanity using the word “Ubuntu.” Ubuntu means “humanity.” This is sometimes expressed as “I am, because we are. We are, because I am.” (The 2003 ELCA Youth Gathering theme was Ubuntu, but the way : )

We have been given this gift of a shared humanity. Let us use it now, anticipating the coming of God’s Kingdom.

How do we do Ubuntu? In a word: forgiveness. We all share the same humanity, regardless of whether we are “legal or illegal,” black/brown/white, male/female, perpetrator or victim. When I wish harm on someone…I not only hurt them, but I also hurt myself…because we are one.

Forgiveness, grace: these are gifts we have been given. Let us not bury this gift or wrap it up in a scarf to harness that for our own sake. Let us share it and multiply the gift. Yes, even to this who we think deserve it the least. This is the only way to heal.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see our shared humanity. Amen.

Give for Water

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S (Scripture): Psalm 49

5

Why should I be afraid in times of trouble,

when the wrongdoing of my bullies engulfs me—

6

those people who trust in their fortunes

and boast of their fantastic wealth?

7

Wealth? It can’t save a single person!

It can’t pay a life’s ransom-price to God.

8

The price to save someone’s life is too high—

wealth will never be enough—

9

no one can live forever

without experiencing the pit.

10

Everyone knows that the wise die too,

just like foolish and stupid people do,

all of them leaving their fortunes to others.

11

Their graves are their eternal homes,

the place they live for all generations,

even if they had counties named after them!

12

People won’t live any longer because of wealth;

they’re just like the animals that pass away.

O (Observation): The psalmist – a seemingly poor person – considers a rich person (who indulges in the lifestyles of the rich) to be an abomination. The psalmist points out that no amount of wealth actually makes them superior – after all, when they die, what will become of their wealth? It will go to their heirs. And what will be their eternal home? Their grave.

A (Application): We are so caught up in vanity these days. Latest cars. Biggest houses. Why?

Most folks living in these huge homes or latest model cars cannot afford them. So why do we go for them? Status? Power? Wanting to “fit in”?

I know this sounds judgmental, but I really struggle with vain wealth, when 663 million people are drinking dirty water…yet so many of us are wealthy…something is not right.

What can we do? How can we be about the ongoing work of Jesus?

Simple: give. Give and give and give some more.

For my 40th Birthday, I’m thinking of doing something big (big for me)…I’m going to seek funds to establish a simple water well through the ELCA Good Gifts program ($2,500). As I get closer in, I’ll advertise a link and invite as many people as possible into my campaign.

I hope that folks can help out as I put this effort together to support others whose basic need of water has escaped them to this point.

Maybe this is what the psalmist intended all along…that we might read this Psalm and wonder our place in it all.

P (Prayer): Lord, thank you for granting me the opportunity to give and encourage others to give, as well. Amen.

Equal Pay, Unequal “Work”

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S (Scripture): Matthew 20:1 Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion, he sent them into his vineyard.

3 “Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ 5 And they went.

“Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. 6 Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’

7 “‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied.

“He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’

8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ 9 When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. 11 When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’

13 “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ 16 So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.”

O (Observation): Jesus’ big challenge with God’s people was helping them to understand that their “privilege” as descendants of the Hebrew people did not necessarily give them an advantage over all other people who started understanding that God was for all people.

If non-Jews wanted to follow God, and their households wanted to follow God, then the Jewish people who “have been laboring all day in the hot sun” should not complain or be jealous of those who “worked on hour.” They will both receive the same salvation…the same grace.

But the jealous ones don’t see how this is fair…

A (Application): When newcomers come to our congregation, you can tell the joy and zest that comes with their involvement of current ministries and their excitement of starting new ministries. This is not the case in every congregation, but we do a fairly good job of bringing new folks on board and embracing them right where they are. We encourage them to apply their gifts to our various ministries.

Sometimes, the biggest zest for new life comes from newcomers. However, those who have been present “all day” have a lot of wisdom and know what it’s like to be out all day. They’ve seen the history of the place, and they have the opportunity to learn how God is doing a new thing in our church body.

The work of both the newcomer and the long-timer are of great value. We need both so as to better share the Good News. Let us not to turn to jealousy, but joy!

P (Prayer): Lord please see my life as one in which I can embrace the newcomer and the long-timer. Amen.

Family Arguments and God’s Grace

 

S (Scripture): Revelation 16:5b “You are just – the one who is and who was, the Holy One – because you have passed these judgments, 6 because they poured out the blood of your saints and prophets, so you have given them blood to drink. They got what they deserved!”

7 Then I heard the altar reply, “Yes, Lord God, the All-Powerful, your judgments are true and just!”

10 Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast so that darkness covered his kingdom, and people began to bite their tongues because of their pain. 11 They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their sufferings and because of their sores, but nevertheless they still refused to repent of their deeds.

O (Observation): 7 angels with a bowl of wrath for each angel to pour out on the earth.  At this point, 5 bowls are poured out.  The bowls are apparently filled with the blood of the saints and prophets.   This is like salt in a wound to those who are not repentant.  The people either repent, at this point, or dig themselves deeper into their stubbornness.  

A (Application):  I’m not one to dwell on punishment for sins.   I’m just not.   Sin is its own punishment, for it puts a divide between us and God, or between us and others.    

Punishment for sins is perhaps where my biggest problem with Revelation persists.   I hear of Jesus talk of judgment even in the Gospels at times, but I just don’t see this is as the main motivating factor to draw one to repentance.   Rather, grace draws us in.  

I will say, however, that a “story” such as this can serve the purpose of helping someone like me to fear and love God so that I might be saved.   Fear, that is, in terms of respect, or to be in awe of God.  Not so much a worry that God might smite me : )

I struggle with a short temper with my family at times.  My wife and kids don’t deserve that.   When I seek repentance in those relationships, the wonder and grace of God reigns down on me in ways unimaginable.  Nothing draws me in like God’s grace.  

What are you lacking for in terms of repentance? How does receiving God’s grace transform you?

P (Prayer): Lord, motivate us in whatever way necessary.  As your servants, we hope to respond. Amen. 

Seal of Approval

  

S (Scripture): Daniel 1:17 Now as for these four young men [Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego] God endowed them with knowledge and skill in all sorts of literature and wisdom – and Daniel had insight into all kinds of visions and dreams…20 In every matter of wisdom and insight the king asked them about, he found them to be ten times better than any of the magicians and astrologers that were in his entire empire.

O (Observation):  In the midst of their Babylonian exile, God was still busy caring for His people.   God instills gifts in Daniel and his 3 compatriots.    They are given authority by God to more fully represent God…even in the midst of their exile.   

What will they do with that Authority?   Guess we’ll just have to keep reading to find out. 

A (Application):  What is it that gets us ready to do God’s will?   Strength?  Training?  Wisdom?   How about this:  God’s Authority!   This authority is God’s seal of approval.  Authority is about tapping into gifts and callings that God has placed in you…and that is what gives you wisdom and strength in the world. 

With this authority from God…now we are ready to use these gifts and callings for Kingdom work: loving and serving our neighbor, representing Christ in the world, following God’s call to serve in the Church, etc.  

Daniel and crew receive authority in the verses above.   They were more wise than the others.  God raised them up and would do wonders through them and their witness.  They would represent God on earth, even if imperfectly.  

What authority has God given to you?  Interpretation of Scripture?  Excellent pastoral care and sympathy for others?  Gathering people together for a cause or social gathering?  Teaching?  Think about how God has authorized you for Kingdom work today. 

P (Prayer): Lord, I am ready to serve. You have called me and given me authority.  Now grant me humility to use this authority your glory, and not my own.  Amen.