Seeing Jesus in Our Neighbor

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S (Scripture): John 2:18 Then the Jewish leaders asked Jesus, “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. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered what he had said, and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

O (Observation): Jesus was at a wedding in Cana, where he turned ritual cleansing water into wine. Now, at the Temple for Passover, Jesus overturns tables, clearly upset that the Temple has been consumed by consumerism.

The Temple would no longer be what it was. Not if Jesus has anything to do with it.

Now, the Temple would be embodied in Jesus, though the Holy Spirit. Jesus would be the avenue to forgiveness. Jesus would be the pathway to love of God and neighbor.

No longer would God’s people lean on sacrifice and ritual cleansing in the way God’s people did before.

A (Application): So what saves us? What gives us hope? What assures us that we will be “okay” or even “thrive” in this life?

Sometimes we move about thinking we have total control over our lives. Sometimes we feel we determine our own destiny.

I’m not sure if these statements are true. I know we are each given a sense of calling in the world. I know living each day takes each of us contributing. Regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender identity, sexual orientation/expression, ethnicity, etc.

Our coming together as a worldwide community reminds us of the riches of God’s blessings and expressions.

We all contribute – as volunteers, paid employees, VP’s, and CEO’s – to church and secular life and work. It takes all of us, working together. No one is to be left out.

As we contribute, may we experience the beauty and wonder of the complexities of this life.

P (Prayer): Gracious God, we see your beauty in the faces of our neighbors, from whatever walk of life from which they come. Help us to see you in our neighbor. Please be with us when we cannot see your face in our neighbor. Amen.

Cruel and Kind – at the Same Time

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S (Scripture): Luke 20:45 In the presence of all the people, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Watch out for the legal experts. They like to walk around in long robes. They love being greeted with honor in the markets. They long for the places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. 47 They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers. They will be judged most harshly.”

O (Observation): Jesus is gathered with disciples and is in front of a crowd near the temple. Jesus points out that the legal experts are concerned only with recognition and power. Their concern for self overshadows the concerns of others.

Following this message, Jesus sees a widow who gives two small coins. She – says Jesus – has down the mightier thing.

A (Application): The trouble with messages like this from Jesus is that we see a dichotomy: either I’m a legal expert or I’m the widow. The trouble is that each of us is both, at different points in our lives.

I’ve used my job as a pastor to be “busy” to the point of ignoring those around me. I’ve also been in the position of giving when I couldn’t give. (Obviously, I could give…I just perceived that I couldn’t give.)

So which am I? Honestly, I’m both.

The trouble is that we use this dichotomy to say “oh, I’m no legal expert. Jesus isn’t condemning me. I’m innocent.” Really? You’ve never pushed aside others for your own gain? For power?

I hope we are all willing to admit that we have been both caring and uncaring, kind and cruel. And for this brokenness, we repent. And we receive God’s forgiveness.

P (Prayer): Lord, help me see the good and evil, to seek repentance and to receive forgiveness. Please guide those recovering from Hurricane Laura. Bring them wholeness. Give us the widow’s heart to give to aid others in need. Amen.

Adapting.

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S (Scripture): Ezekiel 44:4 Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple. I looked, and suddenly the Lord’s glory filled the Lord’s temple, and I fell on my face. 5 Then the Lord said to me: Human one, pay close attention! Use your eyes and ears and listen to all that I say to you concerning the regulations of the Lord’s temple and all its instructions. Pay close attention to the access to the temple through all the sanctuary portals. 6 Speak to the rebels, to the house of Israel, The Lord God proclaims: Enough of your detestable practices, house of Israel! 7 You made my temple unclean because you brought into my sanctuary foreigners who were physically and spiritually uncircumcised.

O (Observation): God continues to reveal a prophetic word to Ezekiel. These words are focused on the Temple that is to be and how God’s people went astray in the Temple before.

God’s people allowed those who did not follow God to enter the holiest of God’s locale on earth. God never wanted to be separate from the world. However, God’s people were called to centralize their faith journey around a place – The Temple.

God’s people were called to gather in this place to renew their hearts and minds, to be reminded of God’s love, to be reminded that forgiveness happens with God.

Yet God’s people took advantage of God’s grace, allowing for the Temple to be run by people who followed other gods.

Those who did not fear God were not circumcised. In this case, God refers to those uncircumcised physically OR spiritually! That’s a big deal. God has moved from a purely physical circumcision – common enough for males – to a spiritual circumcision. In other words, regardless of one’s gender, one could be considered holy simply by being through a change of the heart, saved by grace through faith.

A (Application): Times change. Our expression of faith changes over time. Our faith used to be expressed simply by showing up to worship, giving offering, attending Sunday School and the like.

Nowadays, faith is lived out less and less in the sanctuary and more and more in the streets and in the home. The home was always to be a place of faith formation, but we have gotten used to faith being “taught” by professionals.

The scary part these days is that we don’t know what faith formation looks like anymore, since our old measures are no longer valid. Attendance at church on Sunday morning and robust committees are no longer the central point of Faith formation. They are still important, but how that takes shape is different now.

As mentioned in Ezekiel, a spiritual circumcision is now the norm. And that is harder to see. In that case, we move to different clues about the faith of others. We look to see how a person of faith bears fruit in the home, in the work place, in their volunteering, amongst strangers and such. These are harder metrics to track down.

We are grateful that we can adapt to faith formative practices and embrace the Spirit’s movement in our world today. God sends prophetic visions to us so that we can wrestle with what God is saying to us and how we can respond in faith.

May we have eyes to see and ears to hear what God is up to in our ever changing world.

P (Prayer): Lord, open our eyes and ears to your saving grace. Amen.

God Remains Steadfast

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S (Scripture): 2 Samuel 22:1 David spoke the words of this song to the Lord after the Lord delivered him from the power of all his enemies and from Saul.

2

He said:

The Lord is my solid rock, my fortress, my rescuer.

3

My God is my rock—I take refuge in him!—

he’s my shield and my salvation’s strength,

my place of safety and my shelter.

My savior! Save me from violence!

4

Because he is praiseworthy,

I cried out to the Lord,

and I was saved from my enemies.

5

Death’s waves were all around me;

rivers of wickedness terrified me.

6

The cords of the grave surrounded me;

death’s traps held me tight.

7

In my distress I cried out to the Lord;

I cried out to my God.

God heard my voice from his temple;

my cry for help reached his ears.

O (Observation): David has had quite the wild ride: anointed as king in private while Saul was still king, rose to power, battled those loyal to Saul, ran from Saul and his supporters, returned to power, then ran from his throne when one of Saul’s sons wanted to kill David, and finally back home again on the throne God prepared for him.

And now, in the wake of these disasters and for God’s loyal love and faithfulness to David through it all, David sings God’s praises. For David recognizes that God carries forth no matter what is going on in our lives. God continually watches over us and provides grace for when we go astray or when we are under attack.

David knows that – despite all of the ups and downs – God is constant and unmoved and full of grace.

A (Application): I don’t know how the Jewish community would take a text like this one I selected, and agree with David, in light of the terrorist attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue near Pittsburgh, PA.

Perhaps they would see that God, in all of our ups and downs, is with us. That when we are feeling high and mighty, God is with us. That when we are feeling loneliness and despair and sorrow, God is with us there, too.

My deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of those who died last Saturday at this temple.

I am also encouraged by the responses thus far. Responses that include Muslim neighbors stating that they are prepared to donate at least $70,000 for the families who lost loved ones or were injured, and that they are willing to provide protection to anyone who feels unsafe.

I am encouraged by Jewish leaders across the nation who have shared that LOVE will win this day, and not darkness.

I am encouraged that – despite the dividing rhetoric being spewed these days – we can see people coming together.

May we celebrate God’s ongoing righteousness and steadfast love, especially in the midst of such challenging circumstances.

P (Prayer): Lord, guide us always into peace, into shalom. Amen.

Open the Windows and Doors to the Autumn Air

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S (Scripture): John 4:19 The [Samaritan] woman said [to Jesus], “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You and your people worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. 24 God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”

26 Jesus said to her, “I Am—the one who speaks with you.”

O (Observation): Usually this story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well draws me into Jesus’ witness of crossing boundaries for the sake of the Gospel. And indeed, this does occur. And yet, a new thing has caught my attention in my reading of this lesson today.

Worship.

Where does it happen? The Temple, of course!

Of all the things she wonders about, worship (and where to worship) is important to her.

Jesus opens up the expanse of proper worship. Worship is not about a place, but an orientation towards something. In this case, the orientation is towards truth and spirit. God is released from the confines of the Temple, for “God is spirit.”

The Temple served a purpose for a time. The people wandered in the wilderness until a settlement was established. Organic moved to organized. But then the organization grew and became complicated – it got in the way of worship and mission for God. And the Samaritans, for example, were not welcome to worship with the Jews…thus producing a stumbling block to the movement of God’s grace in the world.

A (Application): Stumbling blocks. We (the Church) are good at creating stumbling blocks for others. Yet we are also so close to opening up the doors and windows to allow the refreshing autumn air into our homes and places of worship and more.

Breath it in! The crisp, fall air. God is up to something. Can you feel it?

Meet someone new lately? Catch up with an old friend? Or do you find yourself wrapping up tighter and tighter, pulling yourself away from the world?

We are all in different places. But I would invite you to be aware of the places in your life where God is trying to pry open your heart to experience the Spirit’s presence.

Maybe at the water fountain? The coffee station? The lunchroom? Where is God showing up and shaking things up?

P (Prayer): Lord, show us that you are here with us. Amen.

The Gold on the Altar

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S (Scripture): Matthew 23:16 Jesus said to the legal experts and Pharisees, “How terrible it will be for you blind guides who say, ‘If people swear by the temple, it’s nothing. But if people swear by the gold in the temple, they are obligated to do what they swore.’ 17 You foolish and blind people! Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold holy? 18 You say, ‘If people swear by the altar, it’s nothing. But if they swear by the gift on the altar, they are obligated to do what they swore.’ 19 You blind people! Which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift holy? 20 Therefore, those who swear by the altar swear by it and by everything that’s on it. 21 Those who swear by the temple swear by it and by everything that’s part of it. 22 Those who swear by heaven swear by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”

O (Observation): Jesus is caught up in straightening out the misguided thoughts of those who established and interpreted the laws for the Jewish people: the Pharisees. Many things the Pharisees do (and have done) frustrates Jesus, as he saw these legal experts contorting the laws of God towards selfish and self-serving means.

Jesus saw that the Pharisees were constantly navigating adventures in missing the point.

The gold in the Temple – as beautiful and attractive as it was – was not the point. The point was the reason for the special nature of the Temple and the altars upon which the gold resides: God promises to be present in the Temple around the altar.

If you make a solemn oath at the Temple, you don’t swear by the gold, but you swear to the one for whom the gold exists: God!

A (Application): What is the gold upon which we pledge loyalty in our congregations? Is it the carpet or the walls or the decorations or the lack of decorations? What do we get caught up in?

What is the most important part of our worship space? Font? Altar? Pews?

What makes our buildings holy? Is it the stone or marble floors or stained glass windows?

All of these things can help…but let us not infer that the “stuff” that makes up our worship spaces – as beautiful as it all is – ever takes the place of the fact that where we are when we worship and confess and receive forgiveness… is Holy Ground. And it is such, not because we wear the right stuff or hang the right pictures. That ground is Holy Ground, because when we gather in the name of the Lord, God promises to be present. And that is all we ever need.

P (Prayer): Lord, strip us of all pretense and make our gathering spaces holy. Amen.

The River of Life

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S (Scripture): Ezekiel 47:1 When he brought me back to the temple’s entrance, I noticed that water was flowing toward the east from under the temple’s threshold (the temple faced east). The water was going out from under the temple’s facade toward the south, south of the altar. 2 He led me out through the north gate and around the outside to the outer east gate, where the water flowed out under the facade on the south side. 3 With the line in his hand, the man went out toward the east…
6 He said to me, “Human one, do you see?” Then he led me back to the edge of the river. 7 When I went back, I saw very many trees on both banks of the river…
9 “Wherever the river flows, every living thing that moves will thrive. There will be great schools of fish, because when these waters enter the sea, it will be fresh. Wherever the river flows, everything will live…”
12 “…on both banks of the river will grow up all kinds of fruit-bearing trees. Their leaves won’t wither, and their fruitfulness won’t wane. They will produce fruit in every month, because their water comes from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for eating, their leaves for healing.”

O (Observation): The Temple was at times the locus of worship, the center of God’s presence on earth. Ezekiel is given an extremely detailed explanation for the Temple’s layout and function. In this particular text, he is shown a river that flows from the Temple, outward. And where that river flows, life springs forth! Abundant life, at that. Like trees that bear fruit every month! Like fish being plentiful!

And not only does life spring forth from the fruit of the trees, but also the leaves of those trees are for healing.   

A (Application):   Knowing that God provides life and healing is comfort that I need.  I try to muster up healing and actions on my part that will provide what God promises…and yet I fail.  

As life goes on, I realize more and more that I am simply NOT God.   We all know that, but if we’re honest, we try to prove to ourselves and to others that we can keep our sh!t together.  That we can provide life and sustenance on our own. That we can be on top of all things.  That we can handle this thing called life.

The thing is, we will never have our lives completely together.  We will have days where we drain life from others, rather than give life.  We will cause pain, instead of healing.   

So, our complete hope is in God. Not in our hands alone, but God working through our hands.  Not our voice alone, but God working through our voice.   Not our hearts alone, but God calling us together into one heart that is bent towards loving God and loving our neighbor.  

May we share in the hope of the river of life that brings true life to all!

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep us alongside your life-giving waters, always.  Amen.  

Intentional Worship


S (Scripture): 2 Chronicles 29:16 The priests then entered the Lord’s temple to purify it; they brought out to the courtyard of the Lord’s temple every ceremonially unclean thing they discovered inside. The Levites took them out to the Kidron Valley. 17 On the first day of the first month they began consecrating; by the eighth day of the month they reached the porch of the Lord’s temple. For eight more days they consecrated the Lord’s temple. On the sixteenth day of the first month they were finished. 18 They went to King Hezekiah and said: “We have purified the entire temple of the Lord, including the altar of burnt sacrifice and all its equipment, and the table for the Bread of the Presence and all its equipment…”

O (Observation):  King Hezekiah takes over and brings God’s people back in line with God’s ways.   Hezekiah orders the priests to take the time necessary to make the Temple pure and holy once more – to ritually purify it.   The prior king had desecrated the Temple by worshipping and making sacrifices to other gods.  

This small, but important task should not be overlooked.  

A (Application):  Those around me know that while I don’t go overboard with liturgical stuff, I do try to plan a worship experience that is reverent towards God and guides God’s people to praise the One – the Holy Trinity – who is our audience.  

How we do worship where I serve is done with much intentionality.  Sure, sometimes I goof up and skip something on accident, but we try our best to put things in place so that we don’t forget items.  And when we trip up or fail to sing the right notes (okay, that’s mostly me not singing the right notes), we do so humbly asking that God forgive our foibles.   We don’t treat worship flippantly, and yet, we also acknowledge that our brokenness in worship is part of what we repent.  

Did those servants make that Temple holy again for worship, under King Hezekiah?   Yes. Were there some mistakes made?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  We don’t know.  

I hope we treat worship with respect and with dignity and with humility.  We will not always get it right, but we will be intentional about how we go about our leading of worship.  Our audience will be the One.   Our worship will be to give God the glory.   And we know that God will redeem us from our average ways.  

What issues and hangups do you have about worship?

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep us mindful of praising you and not making our worship an idol in itself.  Amen. 

An All-Access Pass

S (Scripture): John 2:13 Now the Jewish feast of Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

14 He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. 15 So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will devour me.”

18 So then the Jewish leaders responded, “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” 19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body.

O (Observation): Jesus was demanding that the structure set up for worship be overturned!   No animals for sacrifice?   How can one worship properly?  How can one be in the presence of God without a sacrifice?

Notice that Jesus isn’t so much upset with the money changers in this gospel.  He seems more concerned with the whole idea of sacrifices needed in order to be in God’s presence. 

Jesus challenges the leaders of the church to accept that Jesus himself IS God’s presence on earth!!!  He says to the Jewish leaders: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.”  The purpose of the Temple was for God’s presence to be made real on earth.  Now, Jesus will fulfill that purpose.  God is now accessible through the person of Jesus.  And once Jesus is ascended…access to God’s presence spans all time and space.  

(Of course, God has always been accessible… just not in our human understanding.) 

A (Application): I don’t think access to the Lord is an issue for us, is it?   I think most people today believe that we can all access God.  I think today’s trouble is that we don’t always see God in the world.  So…that drives us to places of worship, where we see God in bread and wine, water and Word.   

But the whole point of Jesus is to help people – right where they are – to know and to be God’s presence on earth.  In your place of work, at home, and also at church, we have access to God…because God is not limited to a building.  This is the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s promise that God’s Law would be on our lips and in our hearts.  

So…we do have access to God…right now…right where you are.  Seek God’s wisdom this day.  Let your actions reflect the access to God that you are blessed with. You are not going through this journey alone.  

When do you most fully feel like you have access to God?

P (Prayer): Lord, we thank you for giving us access to your Father.  We are so blessed!  Amen. 

Keeping You on Your Toes



S (Scripture):  Nehemiah 4:11 Our adversaries also boasted, “Before they are aware or anticipate anything, we will come in among them and kill them, and we will bring this work to a halt!”…

4:18 The builders to a man had their swords strapped to their sides while they were building. But the trumpeter remained with me.

O (Observation):  As Nehemiah and God’s people work to rebuild the Temple, the locals begin to plan an attack to stop this construction.  Their plot develops, but Nehemiah is made aware of these plans to attack them, so they tell their builders to prepare for the worst – to prepare for battle.   

Nehemiah has a man stationed at his side…a man with a shophar. Here is an excerpt from the website Hebrew4Christians.com, regarding one particular use of the shofar: The shofar (ram’s horn) is often used as an instrument of spiritual warfare… For example, the Torah states, “When you go to war in your land against an adversary who is oppressing you, you are to sound an alarm with trumpets; then you will be remembered before the LORD your God and you will be saved from your enemies” (Num. 10:9)

Nehemiah tells his folks if they hear the shofar, rally to it, and be prepared for God to lead them in battle. 

The image that stands out to me is that while they are building, their weapons are strapped to their sides.   Their first purpose remains: build the Temple.   But the moment you hear the shofar, run to its sound, and be prepared for battle.   And yet, do not fear, for God will lead this battle. 

This is quite the set of mixed emotions.  Build, and yet be ready for war!   That must have been emotionally exhausting!  At one point (Neh 4:23) the workers are told that even when they fetch a drink of water, they are to carry their weapons with them!

A (Application):  I can’t shake the image of the worker hammering away, while a sword sits in its leather sheath on the worker’s side.  

This has me wondering about how I live my life…how we are all called to live our lives.   

As children of God, we all have a calling.  We all go about our separate callings, and as we go, we are called to be alert to evil in the world.  When the shofar blows, we respond.  

What does the shofar blowing refer to in our world?  Poverty.  Hunger.  Discrimination.  Evil. (To name a few…)

As the shofar blows…as God calls out to us, we are called to gather as one.  And we are reminded that in the difficulties that come to us, we do not face them alone.  We rally around one another, knowing that God is taking the lead against our enemies.  

We also gather for celebration.  The shofar is also an instrument of worship, calling us together to hear stories of God’s great covenant with us.  

To where are you called this day?  Work? Home? Play?  When the shofar blows, with what weapons has God equipped you?  (A listening ear? An open heart? Words of wisdom?)

May we know our callings in this world.  May we live in a state of readiness to respond to God’s call to do Kingdom work.   May we know that God’s everlasting covenant goes before us, stays after we leave, and remains in our hearts forever. 

P (Prayer): Lord, lift the fog from our paths.  Help us to see the way. Ready our hearts to respond to your call to the Kingdom work you have ready for us.  Amen.