Grace Through Ritual

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S (Scripture): Today, two of the lessons I read come together nicely to make one point: following God’s call supersedes even the most sacred of rituals.

1 Samuel 15:19 (Samuel said to Saul…) “Why didn’t you obey the Lord? You did evil in the Lord’s eyes when you tore into the plunder!”

20 “But I did obey the Lord!” Saul protested to Samuel. “I went on the mission the Lord sent me on. I captured Agag the Amalekite king, and I put the Amalekites under the ban. 21 Yes, the troops took sheep and cattle from the plunder—the very best items placed under the ban—but in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

22 Then Samuel replied,

“Does the Lord want entirely burned offerings and sacrifices

as much as obedience to the Lord?

Listen to this: obeying is better than sacrificing,

paying attention is better than fat from rams,

23

because rebellion is as bad as the sin of divination;

arrogance is like the evil of idolatry.

Because you have rejected what the Lord said,

he has rejected you as king.”

————-

John 2:13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 He found in the temple those who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as those involved in exchanging currency sitting there. 15 He made a whip from ropes and chased them all out of the temple, including the cattle and the sheep. He scattered the coins and overturned the tables of those who exchanged currency. 16 He said to the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written, Passion for your house consumes me.[a]

18 Then the Jewish leaders asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things? What miraculous sign will you show us?”

19 Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.”

20 The Jewish leaders replied, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?” 21 But the temple Jesus was talking about was his body.

O (Observation): In the Gospel of John, Jesus turns water into wine…but not just any water. Jesus takes the water used for ceremonial cleansing and turns THAT water into wine. Jesus points out that those jars of water will not be necessary for cleansing anymore.

And on the heals of that story, we get today’s text of Jesus overturning tables and cleansing the Temple. And Jesus promising that the Temple will be torn down and raised in 3 days. Why? The whole sacred system is about to be turned upside down, right along with those tables Jesus flipped.

Now, in Jesus, the world has its path towards forgiveness and love for God and neighbor. Rituals don’t rule – God does.

Saul, trying to honor God with animal sacrifices, moves away from the Lord’s calling. The Lord calls on Saul to destroy the Amalekite people and their livestock. Saul disobeys, thinking his plan is above God’s. I think not.

What is more important? Samuel – God’s prophet – points out that following God and God’s commands is more important than tradition or ritual…even if it means changing the whole system. Even if it makes you looks unpopular.

A (Application): Ok, ok. Take a deep breath. I don’t propose we throw out ANY rituals at this point. I personally believe that the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are chock full of God’s grace and are a means through which God speaks to us. So…ok.

As we use these rituals to point out that God is reaching us through these means of grace, we continue to embrace them. Jesus calls us to these sacred gifts, and so we call others to the waters in which we are spiritually bathed and to the tables around which we commune.

Let us never use these gifts as tools for leverage or as a means for holding power over one another. Let these gifts always point us to God, and not to ourselves. Let these gifts be blessed and let us use them as God does – for reaching out with a hand of mercy, grace, and compassion for others.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to use these means of grace well. Amen.

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A Win-Win Scenario

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S (Scripture): Psalm 89

19 Once you spoke in a vision
to your faithful servants:
I placed a crown on a strong man.
I raised up someone specially chosen from the people.
20 I discovered my servant David.
I anointed him with my holy oil.
21 My hand will sustain him—
yes, my arm will strengthen him!

27 Yes, I’ll make him the one born first—
I’ll make him the high king of all earth’s kings.
28 I will always guard my loyal love toward him.
My covenant with him will last forever.
29 I will establish his dynasty for all time.
His throne will last as long as heaven does.

O (Observation): The author of this psalm recalls God's covenant with God's people through King David. God entered a promise and God holds God accountable. Of course, that doesn't stop the author from reminding God of this covenant from time to time 🙂

This psalm serves as a reminder to God's people that God chooses to bless and sustain them…forever. The hard part for God's people is that God's sustenance may look different than their picture of sustenance.

A (Application): As God's people of today, we certainly need to be reminded of God's everlasting covenant. I know of lots of Jesus-followers who grow tired and weary of the "right" or the "left."

God's covenant is for all of God's people. And those not in that covenant are to be recipients of neighborly love. So…we're all in this together.

But winning feels so much better to some. Winning is the only thing for some. And winning would be great, if we entered win-win situations. But our sinful pride kicks in and we look for a "win" for ourselves, and fail to think about how others end up – as winners or losers.

Being reminded of God's covenant is a reminder that God desires a win-win for all people. For believers and non-believers alike. God welcomes all people into the covenant. If they accept the invitation or not, is between them and God.

I lean on my Baptism and weekly worship and being in relationship with the community around me as reminders of God's grace in my life. I look around at my friends and worship liturgy and the sacraments…they constantly remind me that God has entered a covenant with me and all of God's people. I need not fear. I need not win if someone else is going to lose.

May we see our lives as being lived within a covenant that God has made with us…a covenant into which all people are welcome. It's a win-win.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see the covenant God has made with us, and help us to invite others in. Amen.

The Monuments we Lift Up


S (Scripture): Joshua 4:1 When the entire nation was on the other side, the Lord told Joshua, 2 “Select for yourselves twelve men from the people, one per tribe. 3 Instruct them, ‘Pick up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests stand firmly, and carry them over with you and put them in the place where you camp tonight.’”

4 Joshua summoned the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one per tribe. 5 Joshua told them, “Go in front of the ark of the Lord your God to the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to put a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the Israelite tribes. 6 The stones will be a reminder to you. When your children ask someday, ‘Why are these stones important to you?’ 7 tell them how the water of the Jordan stopped flowing before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the water of the Jordan stopped flowing. These stones will be a lasting memorial for the Israelites.”

8 The Israelites did just as Joshua commanded. They picked up twelve stones, according to the number of the Israelite tribes, from the middle of the Jordan as the Lord had instructed Joshua. They carried them over with them to the camp and put them there. 9 Joshua also set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan in the very place where the priests carrying the ark of the covenant stood. They remain there to this very day.

15 The Lord told Joshua, 16 “Instruct the priests carrying the ark of the covenantal laws to come up from the Jordan.” 17 So Joshua instructed the priests, “Come up from the Jordan!” 18 The priests carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the middle of the Jordan, and as soon as they set foot on dry land, the water of the Jordan flowed again and returned to flood stage.

19 The people went up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month and camped in Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. 20 Now Joshua set up in Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken from the Jordan. 21 He told the Israelites, “When your children someday ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones represent?’ 22 explain to your children, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan River on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the water of the Jordan before you while you crossed over. It was just like when the Lord your God dried up the Red Sea before us while we crossed it. 24 He has done this so all the nations of the earth might recognize the Lord’s power and so you might always obey the Lord your God.”

O (Observation): God parts the waters again!!!  This time Joshua is at the helm.  The priests carry the ark of the Covenant to the waters of the Jordan River (opposite Jericho), and as soon as they set foot in the waters, the waters start piling up upriver, making it possible for God’s people to start actually setting foot in the Promised Land.     

God’s grace allows for God’s people to work towards the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham generations ago.   

How will they be able to remember this story for generations to come?   Set up a monument.   12 stones – 1 for each tribe represented.    So that one day, a parent can say to a child, “You see those stones there?   They used to be at the bottom of the Jordan River.”  “Why are they up here?  How did they get here?”  And you can imagine how the rest of the story goes.  

Remembrances of God’s promises and the grace God doled out to a people who didn’t deserve what they got…that is the story of old.  And perhaps it’s our story.  

A (Application):  We see statues of soldiers and monuments erected for various historical value.   Church buildings use cornerstones as markers of dates for when a church is established or the building erected.  

We have lots of ways of recalling certain actions, certain monumental moments in our individual and communal lives.  

Jesus also gave us 2 particular monuments that stand the test of time, and are not limited by a geographical location.   We have the sacraments: Holy Baptism, Holy Communion.  

I remind our young ones in our congregation several times a month of the gift of baptism and how it creates a scenario in which all can live out the love of God, equally.   No matter what we’ve done or who we are, God takes us in our baptism and allows the Spirit’s work to be done in us and through us.  

I remind the congregation, regularly, of the importance of Holy Communion.   We come to the table, broken and in need of help…all of us!   We are all a bunch of “fixer-uppers” who receive grace in this sacrament, and encouragement to go and do something in this world that brings love, peace, and hope.  

These monuments – these Sacraments – are made of earthly stuff and transform us from death to life, from brokenness to wholeness, from despair to hope.  When we remember our baptism, let us also remember God’s people stepping into the Jordan, willing and afraid and hope-filled.  When we drink the wine and eat the bread, let us remember God feeding the Hebrew people with manna, sustaining them in their wilderness experience.  

P (Prayer): God, we thank you for the sacraments, signs of your love made real and tangible for us, your grace in our place.  Amen.