Keep Your Eyes Open!

I am back in the saddle, folks. Around this time, I typically take a few weeks off from my publication of blog posts to focus on my family and my pastoral work. The blog centers me, but a break from the publications helps me to focus on other areas. Here we go…

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S (Scripture): Acts 10:44 While Peter was still speaking (to Cornelius, the God-fearing centurion), the Holy Spirit fell on everyone who heard the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 They heard them speaking in other languages and praising God. Peter asked, 47 “These people have received the Holy Spirit just as we have. Surely no one can stop them from being baptized with water, can they?” 48 He directed that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited Peter to stay for several days.

O (Observation): So a group of rule-following / circumcised Jews witness the Spirit coming upon a group of uncircumcised folks who believe in God. They see proof that these folks (who did not follow Jewish customs) are being welcomed into God’s body of believers.

And Peter questions his fellow believers: What is to stop us from baptizing these folks?

A (Application): While at Publix the other day, the young lady bringing the groceries out to my car noticed that I had made a tax-exempt purchase. As such, she inquired about our church. She asked me what was different about the Lutheran Church, what made it stand out from other churches.

Trusting that the Spirit would give me the right words, I said, “Well, we start with grace. And we follow up with grace. We want all to feel welcome to be a part of God’s family.” I know that sounds real “loosey-goosey” to some, but I believe we all have to start there. Help people to know that they belong. As people become a part of the body of Christ – through the movement of the spirit and in baptism – they will be challenged in many and various ways by God and by fellow disciples.

But we always start and end with grace.

Kind of like the message that Peter received from God (Acts 10:15): don’t consider anything unclean that God has made clean. If someone inquires about God’s grace, we give it and help them to see that they, too, have a role in God’s Kingdom. The centurion realized this. The crowd realized this. May we all realize that we all have a place.

P (Prayer): Lord, keep my eyes open to those who enter the path you have laid out for me. Amen.


The Path to Forgiveness

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S (Scripture): Matthew 18:15 (Jesus said to his disciples) “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. 16 But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. 17 But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector. 18 I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. 19 Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”

21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?”

22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times (or seventy times seven).”

O (Observation): Jesus is talking to his disciples about sin. He shows that the humility of little children is what is expected of those entering the kingdom. Then Jesus warns against causing these little ones to sin – cut off your hand, pluck out your eye, should you find these to lead you into sin. He says not to look down on these little ones (that is, those who have humbled themselves as little children), but indeed risk leaving the righteous to pursue the one who wanders astray.

So Jesus is setting up this conversation about forgiveness with a call to humility and mercy. That someone who sins against you should be treated fairly and with respect. That this one who sins against you should be treated with grace and mercy.

Often, we see the line “treat them as you would a Gentile and a tax collector” and you would think that means to treat them with disrespect or as lesser than you…but how did Jesus treat sinners and tax collectors? With grace and mercy! (In fact, he called a tax collector to be one of his disciples!)

The beauty of this arrangement of approaching one who sins against you is that if an agreement is made between the two parties, God promises to be in their midst and bless them.

Then Peter does an interesting thing: he opens his mouth : ) (Haven’t you learned yet, Peter? : )

Forgiveness is not capped off at a certain quota. There is no quota when it comes to forgiveness.

A (Application): Much harm has been done by those who take these Matthew 18 verses out of its context. They take the part about approaching those who have sinned…and they use it as a justification for going after those “sinners.” Sometimes that means individuals…sometimes that means whole groups of people.

What these folks are missing is the context. Treating those who sin against you is the key here, and to treat them with respect. Don’t look down on these folks. With a broken and contrite heart…approach those who have hurt you. As if you’re talking to a little child. (Not in a condescending way…but a gentle way.)

I’m not saying avoid the conversation…just take care in the tone used and the attitude of your heart as you approach the person.

And remember that forgiveness was given to you by our God in Heaven. So, too, do we give forgiveness to those who sin against us.

P (Prayer): Lord, we are broken people and harm one another. Remind us that you pave the way for forgiveness between us. Amen.

God…how about…NOW!

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S (Scripture): Matthew 17:24 When Jesus and the disciples came to Capernaum, the people who collected the half-shekel temple tax came to Peter and said, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes,” he said.

But when they came into the house, Jesus spoke to Peter first.“What do you think, Simon? From whom do earthly kings collect taxes, from their children or from strangers?”

26 “From strangers,” he said.

Jesus said to him, “Then the children don’t have to pay. 27 But just so we don’t offend them, go to the lake, throw out a fishing line and hook, and take the first fish you catch. When you open its mouth, you will find a shekel coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”

O (Observation): The idea is confusing: a temple tax…but for the king. Some confusion remains over whether this was indeed a temple tax or a national tax.

In either case, we can extrapolate that Jesus’ belief over whether or not to pay the tax differs slightly from his action. He drills Peter about the taxes, and Peter answers rightly, they don’t need to pay the tax. And yet, for the sake of peace, Jesus pays the tax. But he does this in the most extraordinary way: the payment appears in the mouth of a fish that Peter catches.

The point is made: Jesus and the people of God need not pay the tax, but they will at this time…and God will provide for it.

A (Application): Sometimes we go along with things until the time is right. Sometimes we bite our tongues…vehemently disagreeing…and yet going through the motions…biding our time.

I hope you find the right time to take action for what concerns you. Our youth of this nation are about to take action regarding gun violence. Our women are marching towards justice. Our hopes find ways of becoming actions.

I’m listening to a podcast today by RadioLab, called “More Perfect.” This podcast discusses Supreme Court cases, telling the stories behind the cases, drawing you into the narratives surrounding the cases.

This episode – “American Pendulum II” (found here) – tells the story of the case regarding Dred Scott (a slave from the 1830’s) and The Tawney Family (who owned Dred Scott as a slave) coming together, 3 and 4 generations later! In this gathering of descendants is forgiveness and reconciliation. Powerful stuff.

They had to bide their time and like money showing up in the fish’s mouth, God provided this coming together of descendants that they may be reconciled to one another.

Where do you need forgiveness and reconciliation? How is God providing for you in the meantime?

P (Prayer): Lord, you being us hope in the midst of challenge and despair. Provide for us as you provided for Peter and Jesus in today’s Gospel text. Amen.

A Bold, Daring Faith

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S (Scripture): 1 Peter 1:3 May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 4 You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. 5 Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time.

6 You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. 7 This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed.

O (Observation):  The early Christians are empowered by Peter to hold on to their faith in the midst of oppression.   Peter (our author) knows that earthly things (like gold) only last so long.   But one’s faith – a gift of the Spirit – lasts eternally.  

The encouragement Peter gives, then, is that followers of Christ are given a new birth, a living hope, and a pure and enduring inheritance.  

This is how Peter grounds his greetings: with thanksgiving!

A (Application):  We have a lot we can gripe about in this world.  White supremacists, government leaders with whom we disagree, the fact that the Church remains mostly silent when our neighbors are oppressed.  All of these things can drag us down.  And we can start to tell ourselves that our story is one of sadness and despair…

Or…we can remember Peter’s words today.  We have a living hope in Jesus Christ!   Our salvation is secure and thus we can live out our faith boldly, confidently!

When your faith is tried, and you stand out on the front line, the circumstances can seem overwheling.   But we are empowered by the Spirit to remember our story.  To remember that we have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish.  So no matter what happens in this life, we are secure.   

So go!  Act boldly, to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep us steadfast in the faith. Amen. 

So Who’s Really In?

S (Scripture): Acts 10:34 Then Peter started speaking: “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, 35 but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him…”

O (Observation):  Peter is summoned by the Spirit to appear before Cornelius, a soldier of the Italian Cohort, but who was also a God-fearing man.  

They have a conversation about a vision revealed to Peter – a picnic blanket lowered from heaven full of “unclean animals.”

Peter and Cornelius would know to avoid unclean animals for food.  Yet now Peter applies what he’s learned about cleanliness and applies it to people.   Now, even if people do not acknowledge the cleanliness laws, but they fear the Lord and do good in response to that grace, they will be welcomed before the Lord.  

Finally, the message that was always meant for the whole world is now being sent to the whole world.  No longer do Jews only have the Lord…but all who fear the Lord and do what is right. Regardless of nation or skin color or language.  

A (Application):  This message from Peter and Cornelius have huge implications for teaching within the church today.  Who is in?  Who is out? 

As a church that is welcoming to all people, some feel like we are not challenging folks enough to conform to a life in Christ.  That people can come into our circles and do whatever they want.  This statement above does not allow for that path. 

Instead, I help teach folks that Jesus invites us all into a journey together in which we are to fear the Lord AND do good in response to this grace.  Otherwise, it’s all for naught.  

We are all welcome into the Lord’s family.   We follow Jesus and his ways and we are in.  This all takes faith instilled in us through the Holy Spirit, bestowed upon us by God.  

What has been challenging you lately about who is “Christian” or not?

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see that you wish for all of us to fear you, and yet walk with joy the paths you have laid out before us.  Amen. 

Even Me?

S (Scripture): Acts 4:13 When (the rulers, the elders, and the experts in the law) saw the boldness of Peter and John, and discovered that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized these men had been with Jesus.

O (Observation): After having healed the lame man, the leaders of the church had a hard time figuring out how to control Peter and John.  They don’t necessarily deny the fact that a miracle took place, they just don’t want Jesus’ disciples gaining popularity over the leaders of the church.

The major threat seems to have been the fact that Peter and John are ordinary folks who did not study the Scriptures or the law as much as the scribes and elders had.   That meant that their position of power and privilege was no longer secure…not if these ordinary men could do miraculous signs in Jesus name.  No longer would people need to spend their whole lives studying scripture and the law in order to do God’s work.

A (Application): Who can God work through? Who does God work through? Is it helpful for the church to have pastors and bishops? I think so. But do we sometimes get caught up in the idea that pastors and bishops are the only ones doing God’s work?   Yes!  Absolutely!

God’s work is done through the body of Christ and in many, many other ways.   The joy of today’s text is that we don’t have to have seminary degrees or even a long resume of good deeds in order to do good this day!

Take a step back and think about what you’re feeling.  Let that feeling be shaped by God’s good will towards others.   Let that feeling win out.  Find a way to let that good feeling manifest itself in some positive way towards another person this day.  

Enjoy the fact that God can and does work through so many of us.    Yes, that includes you.  

P (Prayer):  God, continue to do a good work in me and through me.  Amen.  

God Chooses Us

S (Scripture): Luke 22:54 Then they arrested Jesus, led him away, and brought him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. 55 When they had made a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 Then a slave girl, seeing him as he sat in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man was with him too!” 57 But Peter denied it: “Woman, I don’t know him!” 58 Then a little later someone else saw him and said, “You are one of them too.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” 59 And after about an hour still another insisted, “Certainly this man was with him, because he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. 61 Then the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.

O (Observation):  Jesus is arrested and will soon be on trial.  In the meantime, Jesus’ followers struggle with how to move forward in a time of uncertainty.  After all, Jesus is the son of God…but now he’s been arrested…

Peter claims to be of a strong will, but in the face of pressure, he claims not to know Jesus.   Why?  Lots of possible reasons, but the fact remains that he has denied Jesus three times…just as the cock crowed.  

Peter’s reaction is to flee and weep bitterly.  He is unhappy with himself.  As the cock crows, he remembers that Jesus said Peter would deny knowing Jesus.  Peter is ashamed…afraid.  

A (Application):  God calls us his own, in baptism.     But we know that all of us deny knowing Christ at many points.  When Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him, I don’t think Jesus was saying that he didn’t want Peter as a disciple.  I think Jesus looks to us and while we disappoint God, Jesus sticks with us. 

Perhaps the lessson for Peter is the same for us:  no matter how much we choose God, we will fall short.  The result: we must rely on God choosing us.   God remembers the covenant God made with us in baptism.  That will never be forsaken.  

I can tell you times when I’ve been rude to others and chosen evil over good. Ashamed?  Yes…  Hope I never do it again…  but if my salvation relied on my efforts, I’d be in deep, deep trouble.  Instead, my faith informs me that I will fail, and God will bring me to Him again and again.  

When have you felt this sense of shame and hope?

P (Prayer): Lord, how patient you are!  Forgive us when we fall away.  Amen.