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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Law AND Gospel

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S (Scripture): Mark 10:17 As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”

18 Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. 19  You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.”

20 “Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22 But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.

23 Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” 24 His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! 25  It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”

O (Observation): So the man coming before God claims that he has no problem keeping the Law. Turns out…his problem is with living out the Law. Sounds strange.

The Law was about giving God’s people boundary-markers, which in turn supports life for everyone. Over time, the Law became more and more about what someone could get away with and remain in good standing with God.

This rich man may very well have been keeping to the letter of the Law, but the spirit of the Law was completely missed. I blame the teachers of the Law.

The result of the teaching at the time: you could be rich, have no worries about the poor, and keep to the letter of the Law…all while avoiding one’s personal cross and corporate cross.

Who cares for the poor, then? We don’t have a commandment about that.

A (Application): So each of the 10 Commandments is a Law, but when explored through the lens of Law & Gospel, we see a bit more clearly how each commandment brings life!

For example: “You shall have no other gods.” Seems like a problem if we look at money or fame to bring us hope in this life. That is true. We will never get enough of those things. But what do we have? The ONE true God who brings life! Can’t get any better than that!

Or how about the commandment: “You shall not steal”? Martin Luther says this in his teaching regarding this commandment in “The Small Catechism”:

We are to fear and love God so that, we neither steal or take our neighbor’s property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income.

So not only are we to “not steal” from someone, we are to do all we can to help improve and protect our neighbor’s property and financial status.

Law AND Gospel.

What to avoid AND how to engage.

Who is teaching the Law to you these days? Who is teaching the Gospel?

Seems to me that a bit of both is the way to go. Guess that’s what makes me a Lutheran Christian.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us on track and give us grace to keep moving. Thanks!

Jubilee! (Old Testament style)

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S (Scripture): Leviticus 25:8 Count off seven weeks of years—that is, seven times seven—so that the seven weeks of years totals forty-nine years. 9 Then have the trumpet blown on the tenth day of the seventh month. Have the trumpet blown throughout your land on the Day of Reconciliation. 10 You will make the fiftieth year holy, proclaiming freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It will be a Jubilee year for you: each of you must return to your family property and to your extended family. 11 The fiftieth year will be a Jubilee year for you. Do not plant, do not harvest the secondary growth, and do not gather from the freely growing vines 12 because it is a Jubilee: it will be holy to you. You can eat only the produce directly out of the field. 13 Each of you must return to your family property in this year of Jubilee.

O (Observation): God’s people are still receiving instruction on what it means to be God’s people. What does it look like to live and work together. Surely, over time, folks working together would need to lean on one another for certain communal work, and some would be sick or in really challenging circumstances and would need to be in debt to another for at least a time.

The establishment of a Jubilee year was God’s way of bringing folks back (every “7 weeks of 7 years”) to the original setup God has established for God’s people.

God’s people would be re-established according to what God gave them, not according to their actions or successes or failures. That is grace!

A (Application): We are still working our way out of my student loan debt. Have a sizable chunk to go. We had a mountain of credit card debt, too, but thanks to a consumer credit company (a good one) who coached us through the difficult choices we had to make to get out of credit card debt. It worked! We made fairly steady income, but we had to really focus on our spending.

I hate being in debt. I can’t stand it. I know that sometimes we feel there is no other way…but to get back into debt for a car or eating out, etc. That is a challenge for me now.

We have come to accept debt as a way of life. Sometimes we choose debt. Sometimes – due to health care needs or challenges around us – we are brought into this by no means of our own.

How do we have compassion and work with those in challenging circumstances? Do we say “Sorry! You gotta handle this.” And when we say that, the sick person goes without treatment, the poor go without food, the imprisoned go without visits.

Is the Jubilee concept a thing? Can it be? Perhaps in your own life, you have sought forgiveness…help…assistance. Have you become indebted to someone? How does that feel? Have you named the difficulties and started moving towards reconciliation? Has grace been experienced in that interaction?

Well, with corporate America the almighty dollar rules. Very little forgiveness of debt. Almost no assistance to avoid debt to begin with.

What would a great Jubilee look like? What would a Jubilee look like just in your own circles? What would a Jubilee look like where you are the one giving the grace? What would it look like if you received the grace?

P (Prayer): Lord, forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And.

Here’s a Box…Do you fit in it?

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S (Scripture): Mark 7:24 Jesus left that place and went into the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know that he had entered a house, but he couldn’t hide. 25 In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. 27 He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 “Good answer!” he said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” 30 When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.

O (Observation): Jesus has just finished talking to a bunch of Pharisees who don’t like that his disciples eat with “unclean” hands. Jesus reminds them that what comes out of a person (based on the heart) is what defiles a person, not what is on the outside (religious inheritance, laws, rituals).

He turns to the crowd and reminds them of the same idea:

Mark 7:20 “It’s what comes out of a person that contaminates someone in God’s sight,” Jesus said. 21 “It’s from the inside, from the human heart, that evil thoughts come…”

As Jesus tries to go off for a few moments of solitude, he is encountered by a Syrophoenecian woman…a Greek. Remember, Jesus just got done telling the Pharisees and the crowd that no one is clean, Jew or Greek, for all fall prey to the heart’s desires…to evil.

So should Jesus engage this non-Jew with grace? This seems to be Jesus needing to put his money where his mouth is : ) A Greek wishes for Jesus to heal her daughter. Perhaps that is all the faith Jesus needs to see to heal the daughter. No creed. No statement of faith. Just acknowledgement and tenacity.

Jesus seems to be convinced that even though the “children” need to eat first, perhaps this woman knows the abundance of Jesus’ grace will so fill up the table that there will be plenty of crumbs to spare…and that is all she’s asking for. Just a crumb. To heal her daughter.

A (Application): What boxes do we draw around the ones who can receive God’s grace? Who’s inside of that box? Who’s outside of that box? Are we willing to accept that God works in the hearts and minds of those who don’t know Christ the same way we do?

What if we grew up in the Church? Does that mean my privilege precludes others from receiving grace? Like it’s a set size of a pie, and I need to get my slice before someone else? If they came late to the party, oh well…that’s there fault. I don’t think so.

Jesus reminds us that our external affiliations (I.e. religion, denomination, heritage, etc) does not give us a special place to the exclusion of others. We are all open to receiving grace and giving grace. Jesus’ abundance of healing and grace is our witness.

So give the grace. There is more where that came from.

P (Prayer): Lord, give us grace to give to others. Amen.

Being Led

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S (Scripture): Mark 6:6b Then Jesus traveled through the surrounding villages teaching.

7 He called for the Twelve and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. 8 He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. 9 He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts. 10 He said, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. 11  If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. 13 They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them.

O (Observation): Jesus is now sending out the disciples for their first journey. He tells them to go, trusting that God will support them on their mission. Don’t bring a ton of extra stuff with you. Just go, and God will give you what you need. Some will welcome you and your message of Good News. Others will outright reject you and the Good News. So be it.

This was not Jesus’ first step with his disciples. He built a relationship first. He challenges them only after equipping them (and helping them to know that God will continually be equipping them over time).

A (Application): I’m always hesitant to just throw people out into a new thing. My kids. My friends. My congregational members.

I’m scared for them. I let fear creep in. Or maybe I want it done “my way.”

Yet I have an example in Jesus and a trust in God that surpasses my worries. I hope I can still live this out.

Where do I actually land on all of this? Here is what I do: I give folks information about how something is done; then, I give them something to imitate; finally, I send them out to innovate their own way.

Information -> Imitation -> Innovation

Quite often we jump from Information to setting folks free to Innovation. Yet we all need something / someone to follow, first! YouTube videos are good information, but that’s not exactly imitation. The missing element from videos is the Guide who helps you in your imitation.

As I’ve witnessed and experienced when I receive information, the one leading me has given me a chance to imitate, AND RECEIVE CORRECTION. That correction cannot be found in a video, but in a relationship. The relationship is key to imitating so that you can eventually innovate.

Trusting God is important for us as followers of Christ. And having someone to guide us in our mission in the world is as important. We need affirmation and correction along the way.

I hope you find that someone. I hope God can be sensed close to you. I hope you are equipped for mission and that you know grace along the way.

P (Prayer):

God BETWEEN Us

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S (Scripture): Matthew 25:31 “Now when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left.

34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. 35 I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. 36 I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’

37 “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’

O (Observation): Jesus continues to turn the view of God’s reign on its ear. So many expected God to be found solely in the spaces that were holy, amongst people who were “clean,” and certainly not amid the afflicted nor in the prisons. And yet, Jesus places God in all of these situations.

Jesus describes the joy and usefulness of being with those who are sick and in prison. For in these acts of selflessness, God is there! These acts are as if God is receiving our assistance.

In the act of visiting the sick and imprisoned, God is made real. God is not only a being then, but God is made manifest through these interactions. So in the very act of kindness being shown from one to another THERE is God.

A (Application): Is God just what I see and have heard? Is the only way for God to be made manifest to be done so in the person of Jesus? Is God not manifest in creation, all around us? (Not that God IS everything, but that God is REVEALED in everything that is good in creation.)

When I tell someone of the Good News, is Jesus the one and only thing to share? Well, for me, that is the path…to know God’s love made real in Jesus Christ, dead and resurrected.

But that path may not be for everyone. What if I seek the same values of peace and serving neighbors in need while working alongside my Muslim neighbors (which I do, by the way)? What of that?

If I am feeding the homeless and praying with the sick…is God not there? What if my Muslim friend does this with me? Is Jesus there? Must Jesus be acknowledged? Or can we do the good, without forcing someone to convert?

Just wondering…

P (Prayer): Lord, you work through many different means of grace. May we be your means of grace this day. 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.