Psalm 19:14 (New English Bible translation)
May all that I say and think be acceptable to thee, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer!
Psalm 19:14 (New English Bible translation)
What do we do when we are unhappy? We complain. Complaining often times does not get results. In fact complaining generally encourages more complaining. Nothing get resolved, but we persist anyway.
The lesson from Numbers 21 shows us that sometimes complaints do get results. Not long before, God brought Israel out of bondage in dramatic fashion. But, they are in the wilderness now. Life is different for them. The living conditions and food are not what they were used to. So, they complain against Moses and God. Surprise, surprise, they got a response. It was not what they thought it would be. God sent poisonous serpents into the camp.
What do we do when we finally get into a position where we can’t run, we can’t hide, we can’t go in any direction, we know we have dug ourselves into a hole and we are far from help? Most people appeal to a higher power.
Well, Israel knew when the snakes came for them that they had crossed the line. Those snakes and their venom represented the venom they had been spewing amongst themselves and against God and Moses. It was the theological mirror that showed them their ugliest, most sinful selves. While they were suffering and dying, they knew that they were already spiritually and morally dead. They cannot fix themselves. So, they appeal to God through Moses to save them.
What happens next points us to Christ and his cross. God instructs Moses to make a serpent out of bronze and then lift it high upon a pole. All those who see the bronze serpent will live. They will be saved from the effects of their sin. They will be redeemed from certain death.
Out of the many possible ways in which Jesus could have explained to Nicodemus how he was going to save the world, Jesus chose to connect his future death on the cross with that incident in the desert. Jesus says, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
Somewhere along the way, the theological mirror has shown us our ugliest, most sinful selves. We know there is no where to run, no where to hide, we are boxed in by the truth of our sin. Our only hope for redemption lies outside of ourselves. Our salvation is Jesus, the one who is God incarnate, who lives among us, and the one who dies for us on the cross. The promise of Jesus is that when we look at Jesus upon the cross and have faith in him as the one who dies for our sakes. We are redeemed by God’s gracious action. We are taken from the clutches of sin, death, and the devil. We are forgiven. We are given the promise of eternal life.
Only Jesus can take a cruel, instrument of torture and terror such as the cross and transform it for the good of the world. We continue look upon the cross, we continue to lift up the cross, because it proclaims God’s love for the world.
The cross is not just for our benefit, it is for everyone. I do enjoy that hymn “lift high the cross.” The hymn is a reminder that what we treasure is beneficial to all those around us. We are called to faithfully lift up the cross so that everyone has an opportunity to look upon it and experience healing, forgiveness and redemption.
All God’s people say…Amen.
I had a wonderful time looking at Lake Michigan while in St. Joseph, MI. I walked out on the pier to take pictures of the light house. T'was a beautiful day. Gentle breeze, cool but not cold. Sun showed itself quite a bit too.
Today is high humidity and temperatures. I am enjoying staying inside and read Patricia Hampl's The Art of the Wasted Day. And, of course, I am reading it in book form.
2018-7-29 Lectionary 17
2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
I walked into the pastor’s office on Friday at First English and was amused to see a copy of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Bible” on the desk. A gift left over from the rummage sale. Placed on my desk by those with a sense of humor for a man who can appreciate humor.
I’ve never looked through the Idiot’s Guide for the Bible so I was curious to see if they had any insights regarding the gospel lesson for today.
Both events described today, the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water are miracles. Miracles are covered in chapter 16 with the catchy title “We’re Going to Need to See Some ID.” Then in the box below, we are given the executive summary:
There are three highlights to Jesus’ presence on earth:
In between his birth and death, Jesus demonstrates that he is God Incarnate. Only God is able to do the miracles Jesus does. And, as he demonstrates that he is the God/Man, he helps to understand that he is the one who can take away our sins upon the cross. If Jesus can make food grow miraculously and has mastery over gravity, then he can certainly die for our sins and extend to us forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. The miracles of Jesus clarify Jesus’ identity. His ID is what he has done with the authority of the Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
One of the statements in the Idiot’s Guide about the miracle of feeding the multitude is this: “While we are dividing, God is multiplying.” One of the gifts of Holy Scripture is the persistent witness that God sees things differently than we do. Where we see scarcity, God sees abundance. Where we see ‘not enough,’ God sees plenty. While the disciples are dividing the bread and the fish and grumbling about how this is not enough to feed the twelve, let alone the thousands; God multiplies the bounty so that everyone is satisfied in the presence of the Son of God.
The miracle of the feeding of the multitude is made even more miraculous when we think of just how small the bread and fish are. This is essentially a sack lunch that Mom sent along with Johnie when he announced that he was going with his buddies to hear what the Teacher Jesus says. The bread is flat bread resembling what we call pita bread. The fish are more than likely small fish like blue gills. Not much at all.
But where we see not enough, God sees more than enough.
Our response to the miracles of Jesus is to have faith in him as our Lord and Savior. To trust his vision of things. Trust them enough to act on them. Trust his words for us: you belong to me; you are loved; you are forgiven.
The ID that we check is in the church’s possession now: The Scriptures, the sacraments of Baptism and Lord’s Supper, the cross, the community of people who come together to worship, to sing, to pray. Jesus sends us into the world with his credentials so that the world may know of God’s miraculous way of doing things on this earth. We point to God’s work around us and invite our friends and neighbors to experience this Jesus along with his Father and the Holy Spirit.
All God’s people say…Amen.
Berry blesses us with a mixture of essays, fiction, and a poem. All are on the theme of the agrarian life. Agrarian life consists of loving and caring for earth and all its inhabitants. Agrarianism as Berry articulates it is about using the land in a way that preserves it for future use. Berry creatively and consistently contrasts the ruination of industrial farming and livestock raising with agrarian principles. Industrial principles include bigness, efficiency, chemical usage, short term goals and profit. Agrarian principles emphasize imitating the cycles of Nature, husbandry, preservation, thrift, observing the details of the farm, and subsistence.
The chapter “The Presence of Nature in the Natural World: A Long Conversation” traces the understanding of “Nature” in English literature from Alan of Lille to Spencer, Chaucer, to current usage. Berry then uses the long held understanding of nature to contrast with our current understanding of nature in literature and economic policy.
The fiction focuses on the character of Andy Catlett. Andy is the fictional representative of Wendell Berry. Berry has Andy meeting many of Berry’s real friends, such as David Kline and Wes Jackson, and then discusses what he learned from them.
Berry does not break any new ground here. The themes of this book are consistent with Berry’s previous work. However, as I was reading, I got the feeling that these writings are a summation. They are the reflections of a man who is well aware that his time of work will come to an end soon. The fictional “Andy” is doing a lot of remembering of people (family and friends) and the wisdom that they imparted to him. “Andy” is clearly preparing to join his ancestors soon.
Engaging the writings of Berry leads the reader to evaluate our place and participation in our modern life. Berry reminds us through his essays, fiction, and poetry that they way things are now is not how it has always been. Berry lays side by side the industrial way of life and the Agrarian way of life. As Berry describes it Agrarianism is about a proper ordering of priorities in relationships, economics, the good life, and about loving God and the fullness of what consists of our neighbors.
Pentecost 6 Mark 5:21-43
The two pronged story of the woman being healed by touching Jesus and Jesus’ subsequent resuscitation of Jairus’ daughter, are also found in Matthew (9:18-25) and Luke (8:40-56). Among the many other similarities, all three accounts record that when Jesus said, “The child is not dead but sleeping” the mourners present reacted by laughing at Jesus. The text says, “And they laughed at him.” I imagine the laughter was both bitter and scornful.
We as Americans live a life that is separated from other people through the presence and use of our windows, doors, indoor plumbing, privacy fences, and automobiles. We often times do not know our neighbors. And, we most often do not know what is going on in our neighbors lives unless they tell us. In our contemporary American life, we can go decades without being around a chronically ill person or someone who is dead.
People in first century Judah did not have the luxury of living a life so separated. In any city, town, or village, people had much more contact with their neighbors. The windows and doors did not have the secure closures that we do. People tended to do most of their living outside. As a consequence, people knew and saw sickness and they also saw death.
If there is one thing that the mourners in Jairus’ house knew, it was what death looked like. In the mourners’ eyes, for Jesus to say, that she is sleeping is wishful thinking at best, but most likely a mixture of cruelty and ignorance. They laugh with scorn for the ignorant. The bitterest laugh comes as they empathize with the parents and family. This child has died on the cusp of adulthood.
They may know what death looks like, but they do not yet know what the Son of God looks like. They do not yet know what the Word of Life looks like. they do not yet know that Jesus is God incarnate and that he is the one Word that spoke the world into existence. They do not yet know that within teems life eternal.
All of this will come later when the revelation of Jesus as the Christ comes to completion in the cross and resurrection and in the sending of the Holy Spirit.
Until that time, the mourners, will be mystified. When Jesus says, “little girl arise,” she does. They join with the rest of the family in knowing the fullness of Psalm 30:11-12.
“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever. Amen.”