Archive for December, 2019

Reading Ramblings – January 5, 2020

December 29, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after Christmas, January 5, 2020

Texts: 1 Kings 3:4-15; Psalm 119:97-104; Ephesians 1:3-14; Luke 2:40-52

Context: The readings this morning all stress the wisdom inherent in God’s Word. God as the author of all creation obviously can reveal wisdom to us in many ways, whether through the order and diversity of creation, or through his revealed, sacred Word, and most importantly through his Word made flesh, the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. As we consider the birth of our savior we cannot consider it rightly apart from this relationship, made clear in the prologue to John’s Gospel. It is not possible to receive the Wisdom of God in his Word separate from his Incarnate Wisdom, nor is it possible to somehow separate Jesus from the revealed Word of God. The two are one in the same, and both together provide us all we need to know about the world and ourselves and who we are created to be.

1 Kings 3:4-15 – Solomon is in his 40’s when he comes to the throne – hardly a little child! Yet he is wise enough to be humble, knowing the task he has inherited is massive, and even for someone raised in the court and familiar with matters of state there can never be enough wisdom for proper decisioin-making. Solomon’s request is not simply for wisdom in matters of state, but the underlying, deeper wisdom to discern good and evil. His response demonstrates a wisdom as well as humility, and God responds by rewarding Solomon with even greater wisdom and favor. But we should be cautious to treat God’s benevolence as arbitrary. Only with the possession of great wisdom, and the ability to discern good and evil can any other blessing really be received. Riches and honor are fleeting without wisdom, and many would argue length of days is also dependent on wisdom, if recent Internet trends of eating Tide pods and trying to swallow spoonfuls of cinnamon are any gauge! In blessing Solomon with divinely-given wisdom, God equips Solomon to handle the other blessings well. Not perfectly – as we know from Solomon’s full story – but better than many in his position would be expected to!

Psalm 119:97-104 – Studying the Word of God is never a pursuit without tangible benefits. Wisdom, understanding, self-discipline, obedience – these are the natural fruits of making the Word of God our primary emphasis and focus in life. Notice the blessings inherent with such study are all personal – they do not guarantee us any situational, external benefit over those who are less wise. It remains very true that sometimes those with the greatest power are the least wise. But wisdom is not dependent on external power. Wisdom and understanding can still be ours even if physical power is not. Self-discipline and obedience can be ours, even if we are denied full agency to carry them out. Likewise, the benefits of such wisdom and understanding cannot be stripped away. They remain sweet regardless of how others might try to tear us away from them. Study of God’s Word remains ever with me (v.1), a promise not simply for this life but all eternity.

Ephesians 1:3-14 – Paul packs a lot (again!) into a few number of verses, and it pays to take our time in making our way through it. Verse 3 asserts that only in Jesus, the Christ, do we receive the fullest blessings of God the Father. Apart from Jesus it is not possible to receive all of God’s blessings, though even those who reject and deny God often are blessed through his sustaining of all creation. Those who receive the full blessings of God in Jesus Christ recognize that God has chosen us from the beginning of creation. Here is where interpretation can go astray. Does the fact that God predestined you and I to faith mean He has done so while intentionally excluding others? No! It was God’s good will and pleasure – his predestination – that all be saved, all be included in his Kingdom. You and I in faith are evidence of that, as we certainly could not find or seek God out on our own! This is inclusive language, not exclusive. All are intended to receive the blessings of God. But not all will. That is not because God willed it to be so, but because of the sin at work in us and around us that prevents some from receiving the fullness of God’s grace and love.

Verse five continues this theme. God predestined that all should receive his grace and love, and only our explicit rejection of this intention and offer can exclude the grace of God the Holy Spirit from being ours. In other words, yes, we can reject the predestined grace of God. This idea offends some Christians, who insist that what God intends can never be thwarted, and leading them to extrapolate from these verses something they do not say – that only some are predestined for grace, while others must – logically – be predestined not to receive it. While this may retain the absolute sovereignty of God (by a particular definition), it unfortunately not only says more than what Scripture says here, it also contradicts other passages of Scripture that explicitly tell us God desires that all would be saved, and therefore, logically, could not possibly have only prepared some for salvation (Ezekiel 18:23 always comes to mind here). Jesus is the means by which God makes his grace available to all, and we in faith are privileged to give God the praise and honor He deserves!

Luke 2:40-52 – Certainly the Word made flesh would understand the value of studying God’s Word. Caught up in the thrill of engaging the Word of God with others, Jesus remains behind at the Temple rather than joining his family for the return trip to Galilee. In the jostle of extended family it would be easy for Mary and Joseph to assume Jesus was with cousins or others in a different part of the caravan. But after a day’s travel, they realize this is not the case and hurriedly return to search for him. They backtrack over all the places they were, and the place they stayed, hoping to find him. The three day delay before finding him may not be three days in Jerusalem, but may also include the day they traveled away and then rushed back (well into the next day). Finally they go to the Temple – perhaps to pray for God’s mercy in returning their son to them! Imagine their surprise to see Jesus in discussion with the greatest minds in Judaism

While Jesus was not willfully disobedient (a violation of the fourth commandment), his fervor for the Word of God distracted him from obedience to his parents. When reminded of this filial duty, Jesus submits to their authority (in obedience to the fourth commandment) and returns home with them. Jesus does not use his divine nature to override the requirements of his human nature – his divinity does not exclude him from obedience to the Law because perfect obedience to the Law is precisely why Jesus has come in the first place. He must do what Adam did not – remain obedient to God. The Incarnate Word cannot contradict the revealed Word because they are one in the same!

Reading Ramblings – December 29, 2019

December 22, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday after Christmas, December 29, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 63:7-14; Psalm 111; Galatians 4:4-7; Matthew 2:13-23

Context: Mercy and grace. Undeserved. Not as a reward but a gift. That is the theme that runs through the readings for this Sunday. The gift of the Christ-child was certainly neither deserved nor earned, neither before or after his arrival. The history of humanity is one long litany of failure, of sinful brokenness and cruelty and outrage against God, other, and self. Only in God do we find faithfulness that is breathtaking. We worship the baby in the manger because He alone of all human beings deserves such worship, because He alone of all human beings is not merely human, but divine.

Isaiah 63:7-14 – Mercy and grace follow judgment. The gift of forgiveness from God requires both that He judge sin for what it is, and that we acknowledge sin as what it is, seeking forgiveness from it. So we always look forward to that mercy and grace, regardless of what we find ourselves in the midst of at the moment. Like Job, we may not understand the Lord’s ways but we can declare his goodness, knowing his final Word to us is made flesh in Jesus the Christ, a word of hope and life and restoration through forgiveness. Weeping may tarry for the night but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30). The Incarnate Son of God in the manger is the first faint hues of light on the edge of the horizon, heralding the coming day and the joy of the Lord that is ours in faith and trust.

Psalm 111 – This psalm does a beautiful job of giving God proper credit, something we often fail to do. We are trained to see the world as a system of cause and effect, natural consequences, impersonal laws. But the psalmist sees everything as it is – the direct and ongoing work of God, for which God is to be praised. For which He is to be given thanks. His power sustains all things and his Word remains the foundation of the cosmos. We may probe creation until our Lord returns and never plumb the depths of it fully nor surmount the heights. All we discover and learn should lead us not to glory in our intelligence or ingenuity, but to give glory to the Creator of all things, including us. Moreover, God is more than just the sustainer of a now-broken creation, He is the one who provides salvation and redemption (v.9), a miracle of such proportions it seems ludicrous to so many, and yet so easily taken for granted by the faithful. This psalm is a beautiful meditation launching point for our lives.

Galatians 4:4-7 – Paul touches on the profound mysteries of God made flesh, the Son of God entering into creation to become one with humanity so that He might redeem us. In so doing, the Christ replaces the Law. Not that the Law disappears or has no value or purpose still – it is the fiber of which creation and we are woven. But the Law could only do so much and was only intended to do so much. To watch over us until the Christ could deliver us. The Law acted as our guardian, so that we were obedient to it because otherwise we would have been lost to such depths we can’t even imagine. But now that the Christ has come, we are delivered from mere obedience, as a servant would obey a master, and made sons and daughters of God. The redemption of Jesus – which the psalmist just proclaimed nearly 1000 years earlier – frees us from the punitive aspects of the Law, so that we might live the Law by choice rather than necessity, out of thanks and joy rather than fear and loathing. We have been given the ability to see the Law for what it is and who it is from, and to know we will one day be perfectly attuned to that Law in every thought, word and deed. We are heirs to the kingdom of heaven where the Law will be restored perfectly and we will once again be perfectly obedient. God chose to accomplish this in the most unexpected of ways, from the inside out, so the requirements of the Law could be fulfilled in the Christ, and then extended to you and I in faith. The justice of God is maintained, but his mercy prevails in those who trust his gift to us in the Word made flesh.

Matthew 2:13-23 – What would we be without the Law? It isn’t difficult to imagine. We can flip through the newspaper or review history to see what people have resorted to by flouting the Law or presuming to be exempt from it. For this reason God alone is to be praised, as the psalmist exhorted us, because all others have fallen short of the deliverance or redemption they might have set out to provide. Words and promises are cheap but very expensive and ultimately impossible to fulfill. It is not in the creature to exceed his nature, and we, like Humpty Dumpty, cannot put ourselves or one another back together again. Cycle after cycle, ruler after ruler, empire after empire, program after program – all promising deliverance if we will only turn a blind eye to the Law for a few uncomfortable lifetimes. All in ruin, all drenched in blood.

Such promises fall short of delivering the good they depict, but they rarely fail to deliver the brutality that inevitably results when the Law is set aside. So Herod sets aside Thou Shalt Not Murder and dozens of babies and toddlers die. Families ripped apart in horror and grief, never to be the same in this life. We can’t hear the echoes of their screams of rage and loss, but we hear that same rage and loss in countless places around the world today as the Law continues to be pushed aside in the name of progress or whatever other term is thrown around. People continue to demand exemption from the Law, and therefore people suffer under the loss of the Law. Loneliness where relationship was to be preserved. Filth where holiness was to be preserved. Exhaustion where rest was to be preserved. Anarchy where order was to be preserved. Death where life was to be preserved. Betrayal where fidelity was to be preserved. Loss where property was to be preserved. Distrust where integrity was to be preserved. Gnawing, insatiable hunger where contentment was to be preserved.

Children are the closest we can imagine to being free of this lawlessness, the closest thing to innocent we can imagine, though of course they aren’t really innocent. A lack of agency is not a sign of purity, and dependency never displaces the self-centeredness that is the black rot that fills our hearts. We call this account the massacre of the innocents, but the real massacre of innocence occurred in Genesis 3, when Satan tempted Adam and Eve into disobedience and death. In Christ we are promised a certain peace in our own mortality, but we look forward to the ultimate restoration of order and perfection and innocence.

If we cry for these children we should cry for those around us today. If we spend our outrage on these long dead we shortchange the living. The Law of God cannot be circumvented or superseded, and we must be always watchful of our own hearts and the words of others when a claim to the contrary is made. Those children in Matthew 3 are dead. But so are their parents and siblings who weren’t murdered, and so are the soldiers who followed orders and the king who gave them. Only the King who gave himself freely over into death still lives, and in his life alone is both the fulfillment of the Law and the promise of eternal deliverance from Satan and all those who would insist along with him that the Law is evil and wrong.

Reading Ramblings – December 22, 2019

December 15, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday in Advent – December 22, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 7:10-17; Psalm 24; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

Context: The final Sunday of Advent and the Christmas story begins to emerge in earnest. The Old Testament reading from Isaiah is the context understanding the virgin birth of Jesus – in both cases an unlikely event precedes the rescue of God’s people. The psalm calls us to prepare for the king’s entry, while Paul writing to the Roman Christians emphasizes the continuing work of Jesus as King in commissioning his ministers and evangelists. Matthew details Joseph’s preparation and call to obedience in continuing his engagement and marriage to Mary despite her pregnancy. God is with us, true uniquely in the incarnation of the Son of God, and true to God in the abiding presence of our Lord through his Holy Spirit!

Isaiah 7:10-17 – The news is bad – the northern kingdom of Israel has allied with Syria to fight against Judah in order to force Judah into an alliance against Assyria, the empire growing in dominance to the east and north. However Judah has already made a treaty with Assyria, recognizing the futility of trying to fight against Assyria. But she faces the very real and present threat of a combined Israel and Syria here and now, a coalition which could be disastrous against the much smaller Judah. What is to be done? King Ahaz of Judah counts on Assyria to protect Judah. But God sends Isaiah with another message to King Ahaz, a message of reassurance. God protects his people, and Israel and Syria will not succeed in their efforts against Judah. God offers King Ahaz the rare option to request a sign from God to give him greater confidence. In false humility Ahaz declines, but God will not be thwarted. He gives a sign of a virgin giving birth. Some think this refers to a young woman present in the group Isaiah is speaking with. Perhaps a wife or consort of the king, or a well-known young woman of marriageable age. If the sign is to be of value to Ahaz, it must be demonstrably, measurably true. It can’t simply be a promise of Jesus’ birth 700 some years later. Matthew, guided by the Holy Spirit, sees this however as also prophetic of the Son of God’s birth, a connection earlier Jewish scholars and rabbis did not make.

Psalm 24 – This psalm deals with the kingship of God. It begins with an assertion in vs.1-2 that God’s sovereignty is grounded in his unique and absolute role as creator. God rules because God created. By definition then, any other claims to ownership are false. Verses 3-6 deal with the confessing congregation. Verse 3 questions who has the right to stand in the presence of God the Creator and absolute sovereign. Verse 4 answers the question – only the righteous may do so. Verse 5 is a promise of God’s blessing to and on such a person, and verse 6 is an affirmation of this blessedness. God’s people are always to strive for cleanness of hands and pureness of heart, but our confidence lies not in our imperfect efforts but the perfect obedience of the Son of God conveyed to us through our faith in his atoning death and resurrection on our behalf. The final four verses of the psalm form an entrance liturgy, a call and response exchange identifying the king of glory. The king seeks ceremonial entrance to his people, and is identified by his strength and power. As the sole creator and therefore the only and ultimate king, no other power or rival can stand against him and his victory is demonstrative of his identity. The people of God are to take comfort and courage from our God’s strength and dominion!

Romans 1:1-7 – Paul introduces himself to the community of Christians in Rome, some of whom he knows from other settings, and all of whom he hopes to meet when he arrives in Rome to have his case heard by the emperor (Acts 25). As such he sends this letter as a means of introduction that they might better know him and what he preaches. Every word in this introduction is laden with meaning we easily overlook! To summarize, Paul both identifies with the Roman Christians (as a servant of Christ) but also as one with apostolic authority. That authority is directed towards sharing the gospel which belongs to God, and which God himself promised and disclosed beforehand through the prophets and their words that foreshadowed and prophesied Jesus and his work and ministry. It is this Jesus that gives Paul his authority, authority Jesus derives from his dual identity as a descendant of David as well as his divine nature as the Son of God. Paul, furthermore, is directed in his apostolic work to speak the gospel to those beyond and outside God’s chosen people the Hebrews. An introduction that says immense amounts in very sparse terms, and which foreshadows Paul’s great theme in Romans of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Matthew 1:18-25 – Joseph is in an awkward position. To marry a woman suspected of infidelity would be a dark blot on his good name. He could ask for her to be punished, which at one point in time would have meant death for her (Leviticus 20:10) as well as her paramour if he could be identified. Under Roman occupation she likely could not have been given a death sentence even if that practice was still expected by the Jews. Given the turn of events in John 8, it is likely more a matter of public humiliation and shame rather than execution. And Joseph wanted to spare her even that. But in what might be one of the most compelling dreams in all of recorded human history, Joseph is assured by a messenger from God to go ahead with the plans to finalize his marriage to Mary. Part of this is via an unlikely passage in Isaiah 7, a passage that no Jewish authority apparently ever viewed as relevant to the Messiah prior to Matthew’s gospel. But it is given to Joseph as evidence Mary’s situation is not a matter of lust but rather prophetic, divine action.

Joseph, convinced the message was real, responds in obedience. He goes through with the marriage but refrains from consummating it until after Jesus is born. Joseph takes on the responsibility of earthly father to the Son of God, providing for Mary and Jesus and their other children. He disappears from the Biblical narrative very soon after Jesus’ birth and childhood in Luke 2. While there are many apocryphal stories elaborating what happened to Joseph beyond what Scripture mentions, there is no way to corroborate them. Despite assertions of a long life by the apocryphal document The Story of Joseph the Carpinter as well as be St. Epiphanius in the 4th century, and despite claims by the Venerable Bede writing in the 7th century that Joseph was buried in the Valley of Jehosophat, it is far more likely he died prior to Jesus’ public ministry (less than 30 years after Jesus’ birth) and was buried in Nazareth.

Apocrypha: The Letter of Jeremiah

December 12, 2019

Luther treated this very short writing as a sixth chapter to Baruch, but the Septuagint and other early copies of the document indicate this is an independent writing.  It is attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, but most scholars both in antiquity and modernity agree that this is not from Jeremiah, and it was written by someone using his name some time after the Babylonian Exile and perhaps after the return to Jerusalem.

The Letter of Jeremiah is a simple and short treatise against idolatry.  It reminds me of passages in Isaiah, such as in Isaiah 44, that show the futility and silliness of exalting a carved or shaped piece of wood or stone to the status of a deity.  While this and Isaiah both focus on the physical ridiculousness of idols, The Letter of Jeremiah spends more time talking about all the actions these idols cannot take and all the things they cannot do – all things any god worth their salt should be able to do!

The letter exhorts God’s people to remain faithful to him and not be lured into idolatry when they are led off into captivity.  It concludes with the simple statement Better therefore is a just man who has no idols, for he will be far from reproach.  Not a call to faithfulness per se, but rather a simple statement that a man of good integrity is better off on his own than throwing his lot in with useless idols.  Or in more Biblical parlance, a just man means one in good standing with the one true God.  In either case, it should be obvious to anyone that idols come from nothing, are nothing, and lead to nothing.

This lacks the poetry evident in many of the prophets, including Isaiah.  While it doesn’t contradict Scripture, it certainly doesn’t add anything to it either, and at best elaborates on things Isaiah says.

Weekly Devotion

December 11, 2019

Romans 15:4-6

A popular credit card advertisement for many years now uses the tagline What’s in your wallet? Through varying and uncertain conditions and circumstances and a variety of unexpected characters, this tagline is always the last word of the commercial. Perhaps we should see whether our alternate credit card provides equal dependability, the commercial suggests. If not, the implication is clear – we should switch credit cards!

Paul’s words in Romans 15 might be summed up as a reminder to the people of God to examine what’s in your wallet? In all the ups and downs and twists and turns of life, what do we depend on? Where is our hope placed? Paul speaks by the authority of God the Holy Spirit when he asserts that all of Scripture – which when Paul was writing meant the Old Testament – is given for our instruction and for our encouragement.

How does it do this? It points us to Jesus. And in Jesus is our hope and assurance. Scripture is not merely historical, it points us to Jesus and reminds us of everything He provides us. It reminds us how God worked through over 2000 years of Hebrew history to bring the promised Messiah into our world. At just the right time and just the right place to accomplish his plan of salvation. God’s meticulousness and his faithfulness despite our disobedience is a continual source of comfort and hope and encouragement. And only God’s Word speaks authoritatively and most fully about God’s work to and for and despite us. A work which came into power when Jesus was raised from the dead and then ascended back to heaven leaving the promise of his return.

The world offers many possible things to hope in. Many people place their hope in their wallets – literally. In the bank accounts they can access at a moment’s notice. In retirement accounts or Social Security checks. Some place their hope in their good health and vigor, or in the promise of medicine and science to alleviate the struggles of the world. But for the people of God, our hope can be carried in our wallets – thanks to digital Bibles! – but is not the wallet itself. Our hope is Jesus the Christ, the returning king, and the kingdom of God He will bring into fullness when He returns.

O come, O come Emanuel!

Book Review: How the Church Can Help Alcoholics

December 10, 2019

How the Church Can Help Alcoholics by Father Gene Geromel, Jr., Claretian Publications, 1980

I couldn’t find this book on Amazon.

Properly, it’s more a pamphlet than a book, a brief English and Spanish discussion of alcoholism and how the church can minister to alcoholics.  Much of  the pamphlet discusses identifying alcoholics and ways to address alcoholism rather than avoiding it or ignoring it or misdiagnosing it.  There is far less practical direction for church workers as they address alcoholics in their congregations.

An important thing to realize is that there are alcoholics in likely any and every congregation.  The statistic cited in this pamphlet is that one of every twelve drinking Americans is an alcoholic.  It doesn’t take a lot of complicated math to realize that even in a small congregation there is likely one or more alcoholics.  The Church needs to recognize this, and individual pastors and priests need to be aware of it as well.

This wasn’t something I learned about in Seminary, but it didn’t take long to learn about it on the job.  And don’t by any means presume that just because your congregation is mostly older folks that there aren’t any alcoholics.  A young alcoholic who never deals with their addiction will eventually become an old alcoholic.  Barring an accident, suicide, or general health failure linked to their alcoholism.  The first alcoholic I dealt with up close and personal in ministry was in his 70’s.

The pamphlet stresses the importance of confession and absolution, and rightly so.  It stresses the need to preach the value and worth of every person, including an alcoholic or the spouse or family member of an alcoholic, and rightly so.  The pamphlet also stresses the importance of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon as resources for coming to grips with alcoholism.

The importance of pastoral care is pertinent to alcoholism as it is to every other facet of life.  Law and Gospel are both important.  Care for those around the alcoholic is critical.  None of this is easy and very little of it can be scripted.  But what you also find is that there are frequently recovered alcoholics in your congregation as well.  When the reality of alcoholism can be addressed as a community of faith, it gives those who are in recovery a means of sharing their story, and that process is often helpful not just to them but those around them.  If there’s one place alcoholism shouldn’t be ignored, it’s in the Church.

A short read, and as indicated, pretty general in nature but a good reminder of the reality of alcoholism in Christian congregations and the responsibility of God’s people to address it head on with the Law and Gospel of God and the forgiveness of sins found  not in recovery but only in Jesus Christ.

Book Review: How NOT to Say Mass

December 9, 2019

How NOT to Say Mass: A Guidebook for All Concerned About Authentic Worship

by Dennis C. Smolarski, S.J.


There is a newer edition of this book released in 2015.  However I inherited this copy in a round-about fashion and so can’t speak to any changes in the updated edition.

I like these kinds of books as they give me an idea about how others who take worship and liturgy seriously view these things.  The author  is firmly Roman Catholic and presumes only to give instruction as to the Roman Catholic mass.  However it is useful to me as a Lutheran who utilizes the historic structure of mass.  Although our culture has largely moved to idolize efficiency and utility and to disregard symbolic meaning, worship is laden (at least historically) with symbolism and meaning.  We do things a certain way for certain reasons (at least usually).  And while yes, we are free to make changes insofar as the Bible is silent on these traditions, we should do so more in a sense of reverence for the past rather than a dismissiveness.

My wife and I were talking last night about the nature of community and how Christian community is created through traditions over literally two thousand years or more.  We do things a certain way because Christians have done them this way for a long time.  It provides a depth and meaning for deeper than deciding arbitrarily to do things a certain way for our own expediency or rationale.  Worship and liturgy links the Church today to 2000 years of Christian community.  Doing things more or less they way they did them is an affirmation of that community.  It is not a necessity, not a Biblical law, but it is a very tangible acknowledgment that who we are today is directly related to who God’s people have been long before us.

Much of this book will not make sense outside the Roman Catholic Church, as certain words and terms are used without definition or explanation.  Likewise this book won’t make much sense in a non-liturgical setting.  But I’d encourage even those who avoid historic liturgical practices in favor of current or individualized worship service formats to read this, as it in places provides very serviceable reminders about why Christians have done things a certain way.

Reading Ramblings – December 15, 2019

December 8, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday in Advent – December 25, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-11; Matthew 11:2-15

Context: Strong words of encouragement continue to come from the prophet Isaiah, pictures of a restored and renewed creation made possible only in the Day of the Lord. All other sources of hope ultimately fail, the psalmist reminds us. Which means that we must patiently endure the failures and hardships here and now, which we are able to do knowing that our Lord’s return is imminent. The reality of this is driven home as Jesus works his ministry. Patiently revealing the prophetic fulfillment not just in his own person and work, but in that of John the Baptist as well. The forerunner prophesied by Malachi. Let he who has ears hear.

Isaiah 35:1-10 – We continue hearing from the prophet Isaiah in the 8th century BC as he glimpses a renewed and restored world. Is he speaking with exaggeration about the peace of God’s people when the Assyrians are defeated? When the strength of the Babylonians is broken and God’s people return to Jerusalem and Judea? To some extent yes. But his words clearly go beyond this. He clearly sees more than just restored fortunes in a sinful and broken world. He sees healing and restoration on a scale only possible from God, laying the groundwork for what God’s people should look for in anyone they suspect to be the Messiah. These are the signs John the Baptist has in mind as he sits in prison, wondering if Jesus truly is the Messiah or if he’s tagged the wrong man. Jesus’ response makes it clear John is not wrong, Jesus is the Messiah, and in his ministry is the start of that restoration not just of humanity but all creation to the perfection it was created with.

Psalm 146 – It’s easy to claim to be a savior. Easy to claim you have the answers to the world’s problems and if only you can be given enough latitude, you will set things right. We hear these promises during every election cycle. Only to be disappointed afterwards. Talking is easy. Action is harder. Even the best intentions come ultimately to frustration when someone dies and leaves nothing behind but a legacy to be gradually whittled away but successors and detractors. Only God’s promises can be trusted to be both complete and final. Only God is capable of maintaining faithfulness forever, seeing through is plan of salvation to completion perfectly and completely. Only He can restore creation to the perfection lost in Eden. While others may claim to aspire to this, they ultimately fail, and we would be wise as God’s people not to have our eyes distracted from our Lord’s return by the clamor of politics and human machinations here and now. We exercise our vocation as citizens faithfully and to the best of our ability, but we trust only and ultimately in the God who created us, redeemed us, and sanctifies us.

James 5:7-11 – But the Day of the Lord has not arrived in fullness and completeness yet. With God’s people since Eden, we continue to wait the perfect culmination of God the Father’s plan. Which means we must endure the evil and sinfulness in ourselves and the world around us, and we must wait patiently, trusting in our Father’s timing rather than our own preferences. This patience is something we commit ourselves to actively. It is a choice, a setting of our hearts. We will fail from time to time but we resolve to get back on our feet and remain patient in our endurance, persistent in our hope. After all, we certainly aren’t the first to suffer, and from our American Christian standpoint at least, many others have and do endure far worse as they wait for our Lord than we do. They should be our examples. God provides us with these examples and inspirations, strengthening our resolve and reminding us that we do not wait alone. We are not forgotten and orphaned. Our Lord the Holy Spirit is with us here and now, and so we can wait in confidence.

Matthew 11:2-15 – John the Baptist knows the Word of God. He also saw God the Holy Spirit come to rest on Jesus during his baptism. He knows that Jesus is the anointed one, the Messiah. And yet, as he languishes in prison, John has a moment of doubt and sends messengers to inquire. To make sure. What can Jesus say? He knows John’s faith and He knows John’s knowledge of Scripture. Jesus refers to signs given by Isaiah for the Messiah. Luke 7 drives the point home more firmly – as John’s disciples stand there, Jesus performs miracles in front of them. Can there be any doubt? Certainly there can, because John is still in prison, an unforeseen turn of events from his perspective, and one he might reasonably expect to be reversed, as per Isaiah 42. But while Jesus works many miracles to demonstrate his identity, He does not release John from prison. Jesus comes to initiate the kingdom of heaven, but not to reveal it fully. That awaits the Father’s perfect timing. John, like the rest of us, must wait for that perfect timing, enduring whatever hardships are necessary – whether imprisonment or just the challenges of getting older.

John expressed doubt about Jesus but Jesus wants to be sure people have no doubts about John. John isn’t merely a has-been, eclipsed by a more spectacular ministry from Jesus. No, John is a prophet. The last of the Old Testament prophets who points forward to the Messiah that will come after them. He is the Elijah figure Malachi prophesied, Jesus assures the crowds. They were not wrong to listen to John, and because of that, they are not wrong to listen to and follow Jesus.

John must hear the words of his disciples reporting what they saw and heard. Likewise the crowds are expected to hear Jesus’ words and receive them. And you and I 2000 years later are expected to hear and trust the words passed down to us from those who saw them come to pass firsthand. We have ears, and we have the opportunity to hear the good news of the kingdom of God, the redemption of creation through the perfect life and death of the Son of God. The promise of eternal restoration and new life when He returns. We may have our moments of doubt and uncertainty but we are graciously invited into repentance to receive forgiveness and the reminder to pay attention to what we have heard and what we have experienced for ourselves.

Just Cute

December 5, 2019

It could easily be maintained that I have no heart, based on my typical posts that veer (successfully or unsuccessfully) more towards the cerebral than the emotional.

But just to prove I am somewhat human, here is an adorable example of how something can be done well without resorting to excessive expense, profanity, nudity, sexuality, or any of our  other popular marketing gimmicks.

Take a few seconds to watch this if you’re in the mood for something wholesome and sentimental.

Weekly Devotion

December 4, 2019

Romans 15:4-13

A few weeks ago I was leading a Bible study and they requested the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. You might remember the three guys in the fiery furnace? If you grew up in the church maybe you remember it from Sunday School. It does stick in the mind as a moment of miraculous preservation but also a miraculous witness to the reality and presence of God at all times and in all situations.

When is the last time you read that story? You may think I don’t need to read that story again. I know that story. I haven’t thought about it in decades, but I remember the gist of it. Isn’t that enough?

According to the Holy Spirit and St. Paul, no, that probably isn’t enough. Paul talks about the encouragement of the Scriptures. In other words, the Bible isn’t simply a moral guide book or a doctrinal handbook, it’s also a book of encouragement. And it is to provide both encouragement and endurance for tangible ends such as living in harmony with one another. Knowing the Bible is one thing. Believing the Bible is another thing. But allowing the Word of God to regularly encourage us? That’s something else as well.

Being able to remember the situation Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego found themselves in is important. But remembering their response to the king? Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. What an encouragement! What a tangible reminder that our God is the God of history, and He is everywhere present and more than able to save us from the worst of our fears and realities. Whether He chooses to do so or not is his decision according to his perfect knowledge and will. Faith is proclaiming God’s presence and ability, not a retroactive response to things working out well.

Let Scripture be your encouragement. Let it guide you in living your life and guide you in what you believe and profess. But let it also draw you into greater harmony with one another. The God who created us, redeemed us and sanctifies us is also the God who encourages us each day through his Word!