Friday, September 30, 2016

30 September 2016
Luke 16:12-26
Good afternoon, welcome. In today’s Gospel reading Jesus picks his twelve and begins His Sermon on the Plain.

Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. Luke 6:12-13 (NRSV)
Only Luke tells his readers Jesus spent the night in prayer before naming the twelve. Prayer is an important theme in Luke. Many commentators interpret this as reinforcing the need for prayer in the lives of believers. This is indeed true but it misses a couple important points. One, Jesus has come to do His Father’s will. This at least leaves open the possibility Jesus and the Father were discussing what that will actually was, and how it would play out. Another possibility is that the relationship of love between Father and Son was such that Jesus-and here words simply fail-enjoyed being with the Father; they desired each other’s uninterrupted company. My personal opinion is both are true.

He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. Luke 6:17 (NRSV)
This verse is a miniature version of Acts. Note the outward movement-them (the twelve), a great crowd of his disciples, a multitude from Judea, Jerusalem, Tyre and Sidon. The Kingdom of God is here and available to all who come. His word was heard, diseases were healed, unclean spirits were driven out. Luke, writing to a Gentile audience, wants to be sure they know-this is for you too.

Blessed are you who are…But woe to you who are Luke 6:20-26 (NRSV)
Jesus begins in with four blessings and four woes. Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those hated for Jesus’ sake? Woe to the rich, the full, those who laugh, those who are spoken well of. Jesus is bringing in something new. Remember the new wine? This is it. A new way of thinking at odds with the way the world sees things. Those who adopt this new way will be blessed; those who refuse to change, not so much. Those who adopt this new way will also be persecuted, as has been the history of all who speak God’s truth. This new way would threaten the traditional power structures of Jesus’ day and it continues to threaten traditional power structures today.

The primary focus here, the one thing that jumps out at me, is Jesus spending the night in prayer. Not because it is a model of prayer for believers but just because He did it, and He will do it again consistently throughout Luke. It is, as I said, the relationship between the Father and Son, the desire to be together, the unity of will regarding the mission. I believe this relationship is the true model here. This is the true purpose of spiritual formation-creating the desire in us to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We are not saved so we can make it into Heaven (although we will); we are not saved to force our moral code on an unregenerate populous or to accumulate knowledge (although we will do this too-accumulate knowledge, that is). We are saved for relationship with God just as surely as we get married to have a relationship with our spouse. And, once we get our relationship right with God every other relationship falls into place because the relationship with God is what transforms our character.

Take some time this weekend just to be with God. Use the words from Psalm 46:10-“be still, and know that I am God!” Focus on His presence with you and within you. This could be the start of something big.
May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG

Thursday, September 29, 2016

29 September 2016
Luke 6:1-11

And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. (Ge 2:2, NRSV)       
            Good afternoon, welcome. Today’s lectionary reading tells two Sabbath stories; rather, describes two Sabbath confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees. Sabbath rest goes all the way back to creation, to the very beginning. According to Strong’s, the Hebrew word translated ‘rest’ can mean rest, cease, or celebrate. Although most modern translations go with rest, since rest implies a need of some sort or other, let’s take a minute to consider cease, and celebrate.
            Remember, God’s plan all along was to create humankind. He began by creating a perfect world for humanity to live in. Some commentators think He originally intended to dwell here with the humans He created, in which case it is not unreasonable to assume, after creation was finished, God simply ceased creating and celebrated what He had done. God made the man and woman stewards over His creation, implying they had day to day tasks to perform. After the fall, these tasks would become toil and Sabbath rest would move into the realm of true rest from work; but in the beginning I believe it was more of a celebration. Genesis 3:8 seems to support this, at least the idea of God being physically present in the garden. Keeping the Sabbath becomes a commandment in Exodus-Israel is commanded to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy; work is expressly forbidden. By the time Jesus comes work had (and still has) an extremely broad definition. Keeping these ideas of celebration and rest in mind, let’s move forward to our Gospel reading.

One Sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. (Luke 6:1, NRSV)
The idea of going through grainfields plucking grain and eating it goes back at least to Deuteronomy 23:25-25. Here God says its ok to go into your neighbor’s field (or vineyard) and pluck with your hand-you can eat it there but you can’t take it with you. The problem was, Pharisees considered plucking harvesting and harvesting was work and work was forbidden.

Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Luke 6:5, NRSV)
Jesus reminds them that David raided the Temple and ate the bread of the Presence-consecrated sanctuary bread, for priests only-which God allowed. If God allowed that, surely He would allow eating grain, which was available to anyone who entered the field. Then He gets to the heart of the matter-the son of Man is lord of the Sabbath. Jesus seems to be saying ‘I gave you the Sabbath; I get to make the rules about how it is to be kept, and if I want to celebrate it in a grainfield, I will.’

After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. (Luke 6:10-11, NRSV).
The second Sabbath confrontation centers around a man with a withered hand, and this question, which Jesus puts to the Pharisees in a synagogue service-is it lawful to  do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or destroy it?(vs.9). Jesus spoke, the man stretched out his hand (neither of which was work); Luke says the hand was restored. Jesus celebrated life by making the man whole. What should have been a joyous occasion for everyone present-a powerful sign of the presence of God among His people-instead filled the Pharisees with fury.

I have two take-aways here, one from the Genesis account and one from the Gospel. First, from Genesis, comes the idea that God really, really wants our friendship; God truly enjoys being with us. We need to move away from the idea of God as a cosmic taskmaster or supernatural Santa, and towards the idea of God as our divine lover and ourselves as His beloved. James says it like this; “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us” (Ja.4:5, NRSV). I think I have asked this before-if we cannot enjoy God now, how will we ever enjoy Him in eternity?

The Gospel take-away is similar and also one we have seen before. The Pharisees stood in the presence of God and did not recognize Him. This is not a criticism; it simply is. John tells us Jesus would say “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40, NRSV). I know from personal experience the gap between knowing about God and knowing God is huge. And I also know from personal experience knowing about God leads to pride and hardness of heart; knowing God leads somewhere else entirely. 

We have another made-for-meditation moment here-God celebrating His creation, in His creation, with His creation. Point your thoughts in that direction today; keep it in mind Sunday as we celebrate together.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. JRG


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

28 September 2016
Luke 5:27-39
            Good morning, welcome. Today Jesus calls Levi (aka Matthew), and tells the Pharisees something new has come. In this spirit of newness I changed the format a little, which may make things a little easier to follow.
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him. To fully appreciate this story, you really need to understand how tax collectors functioned in Jesus’ time. Rome required taxes from all its provinces; these taxes paid for the same types of services they do today-the highway system, security, law and order, government. Taxes also guaranteed the provinces a certain amount of religious freedom; the Pax Romana really liked its provinces peaceful and payed up. In Israel tax collectors were generally Jews and had considerable authority. Any amount above and beyond what Rome required was theirs to keep; they grew rich off their fellow Jews and were universally despised as extortionists and collaborators with Rome. So when Levi left everything and followed Jesus, he was leaving a lot.
            Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house…there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. In response Levi throws a party and invites all his tax collector buddies, prompting the Pharisees to ask why Jesus is hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. What they were really asking was ‘is He really inviting them all to join Him? Is this more than a one-time deal?’ To which Jesus gives His classic response-the sick don’t need healed. I came to call sinners to repentance. Once again we see Jesus making the unclean clean, not the other way around.
            Then they said to him, “John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.” The Pharisees, not ones to let things go (or understand, for that matter) press their point. Now Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. Two hearts, actually. Something new is coming. Something totally new; the old must be set aside. So new, it will take you right out of your comfort zone and you aren’t going to want to go: And no one after drinking old wine desires new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’
               The new thing, of course, is the Kingdom of God and it is starting to take shape. It involves healing for all who come, personal contact, calling sinners to repentance and fellowship. Many may benefit-as this glorifies God-but to follow Jesus requires more; something totally new which cannot be adjusted to fit in with what was before. The Kingdom is fellowship-eating and drinking and celebrating. It will make some people very uncomfortable, and this is only the beginning. Remember, Jesus, fully human, fully God, is showing us what God is like; He is also showing us what God had in mind for us, before sin got in the way. Jesus shows us what we were meant to be; what we can be like. If only we surrender, leave everything behind and follow Him.
            Obviously I am not talking about selling everything we own, deserting our families and living on the street. I am talking about leaving old ways of thinking behind; taking every thought captive to obey Christ (2Cor10:5). Isaiah puts it this way “Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not
perceive it?” (Isa.43:18-19). So the question for you is this-what new thing is being done in your life today? Or, what old thing are you being called to let go? Spend a few minutes meditating on today’s passage. Imagine standing on the sidelines, watching the banquet, listening in on Jesus’ conversations, recorded and unrecorded. What do you hear Him saying to Levi’s tax collector buddies? To the Pharisees? Think about how your answer reflects how you understand Jesus, how you see the Kingdom of God. Look for the new thing.    
May the Lord Himself lift you up this day. JRG

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

27 September 27, 2016
            Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. And he ordered him to tell no one. “Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.” But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.
            One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the one who was paralyzed—“I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.” Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen strange things today.” Luke 5:12-26 (NRSV)

            Good morning, welcome. Our gospel passage today features healing, forgiveness, overcoming barriers and confrontation. For those old enough to remember, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which first became public in the early 1980’s, provides us with a good idea of what it must have been like to be a leper in Jesus’ day. AIDS patients, like lepers before them, were pariahs; people to be avoided at all costs. While the body wasted away in a slow, agonizing death, the spirit wasted away from the combination of forced solitude harsh judgement. Or worse, became hardened against God in a cruel hatred, exacerbated by a church quick to point out AIDS was God’s punishment for homosexuality. Never mind the fact the significant numbers contracted the disease from transfusions with tainted blood.  Many would say the worst part of the disease was the prolonged lack of a physical, human touch.
            I tell you this to give you an idea of what the life of a leper would have been like in Jesus’ day. Remember, the Mosaic Law declared anyone with a skin disease unclean; in fact these people were required to shout out ‘unclean, unclean’ as they walked about, lest some poor soul would accidently make contact with one of them. So here comes this leper and the first thing he says is ‘Lord, if you chose you can make me clean’. And Jesus does the one thing absolutely forbidden by religious tradition-he touches the man. Jesus is not made unclean; the leper is made clean. Immediately. Jesus sends him off to the priest as a testimony. Remember, Jesus is showing us what God is like. Evidently He is not afraid of a little one on one with society’s worst.
            The paralytic story is a little more involved. The crowds around Jesus form a barrier that the paralytic’s friends are determined to overcome. Note here it is the faith of the friends Luke mentions. When Jesus sees this He responds immediately-‘friend, your sins are forgiven’. Two important points present themselves. One, Jesus equates forgiveness with physical healing-a total restoration package. Two, Jesus does not require any special prayer; there are no special instructions to follow; no ‘go home and learn this and come back when you are ready’. Jesus recognizes faith when He sees it and responds accordingly.         
            The Pharisees, of course, take issue with Jesus’ pronouncing forgiveness. It seems barriers to faith exist mainly on the human side of things, not on the divine side. The healed man, for his part, goes home glorifying God. The crowds, filled with awe and amazement, in a classic example of understatement say: ‘we have seen strange things today’. Strange things indeed.
            We have several takeaways here, which I will leave for you to ponder. First, yet again, Jesus accepts all who come in faith. Nothing else is required. If this is a recurring theme with me it is because I believe it is a recurring theme with God as well. Which leads to our second point-faith will find a way to overcome barriers in its search for God. We can lead or we can step aside but we cannot be a barrier for long. Finally restoration of any kind is for the glory of God. And in fact, as the ancient Catechism says, we are here to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. So that’s the assignment today-enjoy God. The leper and the paralytic certainly did. And know the enjoying itself brings God glory. And joy.

May the Lord bless you and lead you this day, and bring you peace. JRG

Monday, September 26, 2016

26 September 2016
At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea. Luke 4:42-44 (NRSV)

            Good morning, welcome. Friday we saw Jesus introduce His public ministry by casting out a demon in a Capernaum synagogue. Today-same day in our story-Jesus leaves the synagogue for Simon’s house, where Simon’s mother-in-law is suffering with a high fever. Jesus rebukes the fever and it leaves her. Totally cured, she gets up and begins to serve her guests. Jesus has now demonstrated His authority in two crucial areas-over demons, and over illness.
            AS a result, after sundown-the official end of the Jewish Sabbath day-Jesus is swamped with everyone around who needed cured. His response is to “[lay] His hands on each of them and [cure] them” (v.40). Two very important things are happening here. First, Jesus is giving each one who comes personal attention. Second, He cures everyone who comes; no one is turned away. This is the good news of the Kingdom of God: it is personal, and it is available to everyone who comes.
            The next day Jesus begins what will become a habitual practice-rising early and departing to a deserted place. Luke doesn’t tell us what Jesus was up to but I suspect it had to do with a strong desire to be alone with the Father. What they might have been doing together is a good thought exercise-a good subject for meditation. What do you do when you are alone with God? Sometimes we all just need to recharge; sometimes we all just need to say ‘I can’t do anymore, just let me be alone with you for a time’. Silence and solitude are easy to want, hard to get (and good disciplines too, by the way).
            At any rate, the crowds find Him and try to prevent Him from leaving. Having been cured, they would keep Jesus for themselves; by doing so they would prevent others from knowing Jesus. So, here’s a question for us today-are we keeping Jesus for ourselves, or are we sharing Him with everyone we come across? By asking (sometimes manipulating or even demanding) God to bless our plans, will we prevent others from knowing Jesus? Are we opening the gates or standing guard, waiting to hear the secret code before we admit anyone? Jesus says “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” (v.43). Proclaim, not hide or offer as a reward or bargain away. Later on Jesus will tell his disciples ‘freely you have received, freely you must give’.
            Chapter five begins a series of narratives describing things Jesus does to ‘bring the Kingdom home’, so to speak. They may be in historical order; they may not. I don’t think that’s important here. What is important is what Jesus actually does; remember, He is God revealing Himself. With this in mind, looking at the story of Simon and the miraculous catch, what do we see? The catch itself is the ‘hook’-it captures our attention (it certainly captured Peter’s). Peter’s response is often uses as an example of a ‘proper response’ before God-“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man’ which is no doubt true for us as well.
             But that isn’t what I want to focus on. Jesus responds with “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people” (vs.10, Italics mine). Here is the point-Jesus intends to use people to spread the good news. Not just people, sinful, imperfect people. Jesus did not say to Peter ‘I know-go away and don’t come back till you are no longer sinful’. He said ‘do not be afraid’. He is saying the same thing to us today and He is also saying do not make others afraid either. This isn’t a catch-and-release program where only the big ones are keepers.
            I believe understanding the inclusive nature of the Kingdom of God is not only the most important thing we can do; it is also the only thing that will successfully overcome the fear and anger rampant in this country and in our world today. Remember, Jesus was not a successful white American male who had all His theological ducks in a row. He was a Palestinian Jew from the other side of the world who would be judged a failure and a fraud by all the relevant power structures of His day. Yet here we are, two thousand years later, still called to demonstrate His Kingdom and invite people in.
            Today, if you are out and about, when you encounter someone obviously different from yourself, try to imagine how your life would be enriched by having them as a member of your family. If you are not out and about, try to spend a few minutes in silence before God and ask Him to give you a vision of His Kingdom as a worldwide Kingdom; a vision of His church as one big worldwide family. Either way, whatever insight you receive, be sure to pass it on.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be you all this day. JRG


Friday, September 23, 2016

23 September 2016
They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, “What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!” And a report about him began to reach every place in the region. Luke 4:36-37 (NRSV)

            Good afternoon, welcome. Today Luke takes us to Capernaum, a town on the northern shore of The Sea of Galilee. Here, in a synagogue on a Sabbath, Jesus begins to deliver on the promises He made in Nazareth, demonstrating authority in His teaching and power in His deeds.
            We’ve seen the teaching authority before, over in Matthew. Jesus isn’t merely quoting other rabbis’ opinions. He is delivering the absolute truth of Kingdom living, straight from the King himself. The people may not recognize who He is, but they know something about Him is different. But Jesus doesn’t just teach with authority. In a clear demonstration of power He exorcises a demon-a demon who definitely knew who Jesus was, even if the rest did not.
            This incident raises a few questions. Why was a man possessed by a demon in the synagogue in the first place? When the demon recognizes Jesus, why does Jesus command him to be silent? Why the shift from ‘us’ to ‘I’? Jesus, in demonstrating the Kingdom of God, is following the Father’s plan. There are no coincidences in the Gospels. What is there is there for a reason. The demon-possessed man was in the synagogue because the Father wanted him there (in John’s Gospel Jesus comes across a man born blind for the same reason). He was there to demonstrate Jesus’ absolute power, proving Jesus capable of the release, restoration, freedom from oppression He promised. The Lord’s favor has come indeed. Keep this thought in mind; we will see it again.
            A tougher question is why Jesus repeatedly silences demons who recognize-and testify to-who He is. Many commentators agree Jesus simply did not want demonic testimony. The demons knew who Jesus was and had no choice but to obey Him. Jesus is demonstrating total authority here; this is total dominance. Not just over this demon either-over all demons, every evil. This was Jesus saying I alone have authority here. The demons know who I am-they obey because they have no choice. They fear my authority. But you have no need to fear me. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like. This is for you. You have a choice. See and believe.
            So how do we apply this today? Are we to go around looking for demons to cast out? Probably not. Casting out demons requires a level of spiritual authority few of us would possess (see, for example, Acts 19:13-17). But consider this. God had a plan for Jesus which Jesus followed. In John’s Gospel He would tell the Pharisees He does nothing on His own but only what He sees the Father doing (Jn 5:19-20). How many times have you heard someone say ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’? Well, I don’t believe God has every minute of every hour of every day planned out. But I do believe He has a plan, and the people who come and go in our lives are there for a reason, just like the demon-possessed man was in the Capernaum synagogue for a reason.
            Here is the application-pay attention to who comes and goes in your life over the weekend. Now, to do this you must have some situational awareness-you cannot be sleepwalking (or daydreaming), as the mindfulness people say. Lest you think mindfulness is just another New Age trick-or worse-let me say the point is simply to cultivate an awareness of what is going on around us (or who is going on around us) in the present moment. After all, we cannot connect with God if we are worrying about what to make for dinner or where to go tomorrow or whether or not to buy this or that thing we probably don’t need anyway. I guess we could say ‘Godfulness’ instead of mindfulness (or practicing His presence-remember that?). The point is to be able to recognize when people are sent to us, and why. Take some time before you go to bed and review the day.  Did you miss anyone? This will help you do better tomorrow.
            We will probably come back to this whole plan thing again. And again. It has to do with what I will call “Personal Interactive Connectedness”. Here we are relating, interacting and connecting to one another on a personal, face to face level. Today we have more opportunities than ever before to connect with one another. Yet for all our connectedness we have forgotten how to relate to each other. Our model is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By the way, the Holy Spirit plays a prominent role in Luke and Acts. So take some PIP time over the weekend and let the Spirit connect you with God, and with each other. See where that leads you.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. JRG


Thursday, September 22, 2016

22 September 2016
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21 (NRSV)

            Good afternoon, welcome. Today Luke begins his account of Jesus’ public ministry. The Isaiah passage Ch. 60:1-2a (see also 58:6) and is part of a larger section having to do with repentance and restoration, which starts around Isaiah 49 and finishes around Ch. 62. This section is well worth the read and has a contemporary application which is especially relevant to today’s culture in general, and our political climate in particular.
            So, what is this good news Jesus has come to bring? Captivity to sin has ended. Those blinded to the truth about God will see clearly. The oppressed will find relief. The Kingdom of God has come. Today. Right here, Right now. For the congregation in the Nazareth synagogue this must have sounded like a pretty good deal; a classic case of local boy males good, the hometown hero returns. They knew this guy; anybody who had been paying attention must have sensed something different about him.
            Then Jesus drops the bombshell-you don’t understand. This isn’t just for you. In fact it might not be for you at all-no hometown ever honors their own prophets. This is for everyone. Remember the widow in Sidon? Remember Naaman the Syrian? This is like that. This is how God does things. The response is typical of those who are not hearing what they want to hear-violence against the messenger. We see a lot of that today too.
                        Worth noting is where Jesus cuts off the Isaiah quote. The full verse reads “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn”. The year of the Lord’s favor is here, and Jesus is it. The day of vengeance will come later, and Jesus will be that too. Comfort will come. But not yet. This is important. For now, the day of the Lord’s favor remains. And it is not exclusive to the Nazareth Synagogue, it is for everyone-the offer is for all who will believe. Knowing this demands a choice, a response. Will we be a Nazareth Synagogue or will we participate with Jesus in fulfilling the prophesy?
            How about you? In the next day or two or three, pay close attention to everyone who comes across your path. Note how you react-your first response. We are not judging here, merely observing. At the end of your day, review your observations. Remember, we are not judging, we are observing. If you have written this stuff down, offer it to God, ask Him to comment. Maybe write down any thoughts this produces on the other side of your paper.
            I know this sounds a little odd, especially for those who might not be used to interacting with God in this way. Remember, we are made for relationship-interacting-we are family, God’s family. This (interacting, communicating) is what families do, and our family is huge and growing.  Paul says “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Ephesians 3:14-15, NRSV).  Talk to your Father in heaven. Try it for a few days and see where it takes you. See where God takes you. Remember, it’s His plan.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (NRSV). JRG


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

21 September 2016
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God…” Luke 4:1-3 (NRSV).
Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.
He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange. Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-15 (NRSV)

                        Good morning, welcome. Today we join Jesus as He is being tempted by the devil. The three temptations are categorized by John in 1 John 2:16 and point back to the Devil’s original line of attack in Genesis3:6. They are the same temptations we face pretty much every day in one form or another: desires of the flesh; desires of the eyes; and pride of riches.
            The idea of forty days in the wilderness points back to Israel’s forty years wandering. God intended Israel to be His servant, demonstrating His presence to the nations. He now intends the same for Jesus; the devil seems anxious to ensure Jesus’ failure as well. He is attempting to entice Jesus to validate His position and His ministry by dictating the terms. This may be seen as a test of Jesus’ commitment to the Father’s will. He has already been validated by the only one who matters. The devil wants to know-will He stick to the plan, or not?
            Once again we have a nice little picture of our own conversion. We are saved, validated, and empowered and the devil wants to know-will you stick to the Father’s plan? The Father’s plan is my primary point here. For Jesus it was our salvation. For us it is the same as it was for Israel-demonstrating the Kingdom presence and extending the Father’s invitation. Once Jesus rejects the devil He becomes the Father’s plan; our salvation. We become the Father’s plan by resisting the devil. Here’s what I mean by that.
            Most commentators will tell you Jesus defeated the devil by quoting scripture. This is true on the surface, but much more is required. The devil himself quotes from the Psalms-here is what it says. Jesus’ reply-do not put the Lord to the test-goes deeper-here is what scripture means. The devil is proof-texting to make his point. Jesus, applying the text to Himself, becomes the point. Jesus interprets scripture according to what He knows the true will of God to be. Remember, it is God’s will Jesus is about.
            This is important-the devil is attempting to separate Jesus from the Father, to entice Jesus to act on His own. He uses the same tried and true tactic on us. It worked on the first couple and it continues to work today. When we try to resist by simply quoting a verse or two, as if it were some sort of magic talisman given to ward off evil, we will fail. We must be united to the Father; committed to His rule and His plan and the leading of the Spirit in our lives. Jesus calls this abiding. John calls it walking as He walked; walking in the light. Paul calls it the new creation, dead to sin, alive to God, and teaches us to set our minds on things above, to live by the Spirit.
            This is why I say quoting scripture is not enough. We must come to the point where our natural behavior is obedience; where our character has been so completely formed by God our first impulse it to say ‘No, I’m not doing that and here is why’. This is spiritual formation, discipleship. And I will say it again-our spirit, our character, will be formed one way or the other. We must make a conscious decision about how we will be formed and we must make that decision as often as necessary. Will it be separation, or unity?
            Of course, scripture plays a key role in the formation process. Meditation-holy daydreaming-opens us up to new ways of thinking. Study helps us dig through layers of meaning for a deeper understanding. Memorization facilitates both and helps keep our minds focused, providing a handle we can grasp when our thoughts and feelings wander off. This is how we move from quoting scripture-“if anyone is in Christ; a new creation” to being scripture-“the new creation has come, and it is me”. Try it for yourself. There’s a ton of scripture memory stuff out there, apps and hard copy both. The Navigators Topical Memory System has been my favorite for years and still is. But like the commercial says, there’s an app for that.
            Finally, let’s take a quick look at the difference between temptation and testing. Temptation seeks to separate us from God and has its roots in evil. Testing seeks to prove commitment and strengthen character and is permitted by God for that purpose. Make no mistake; Jesus was being tempted. He was also being tested. Remember, the Spirit led Him into the wilderness after He was confirmed as Son of God. We will be tempted to evil and we will be tested for our commitment to God’s plan and purpose. One we must avoid, the other we should welcome.
            May the Lord strengthen and protect you all this day. JRG


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

20 September 2016
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21-22 (NRSV)

            Good morning, welcome. In today’s Gospel the ministry of John the Baptist comes to an end, and the ministry of Jesus begins. Luke tells us there was a spirit of expectation among the people and many were wondering whether or not John himself was the promised Messiah. John tells the crowd one is coming who will baptize not with water but with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John’s words hold a promise of renewal and judgement. Renewal according by the Holy Spirit; judgement by the divine fire. John’s ministry ends when Herod has him imprisoned. John had been calling Herod out for marrying Herodias, Herod’s brother’s wife. Herod, never one to repent, responded by locking John up and eventually having him beheaded.
            Jesus’ ministry begins with His baptism, His confirmation by God the Father and anointing by the Holy Spirit. In these few verses we see a picture of Jesus as both fully human and fully God. Over John’s protests Jesus is baptized-he completely identifies Himself with the humanity He has come to save. He is immediately confirmed as God the son by a voice from heaven and visibly anointed with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. This is what happens at the moment of our conversion-we are identified with Christ, affirmed by the Father and anointed by the Holy Spirit. Now, I realize some faith traditions may take issue with this. That’s ok. My main point is the entire Trinity is involved in our conversion; it is a supernatural event.
            Which leads to this-we also have here a very clear picture of the Trinity in action. Jesus is about to carry out God’s plan. God Himself affirms this when He says “you are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”. Jesus will carry out this plan in the power and under the guidance of God the Holy Spirit. This is how it works for us too. The plan belongs to God. Jesus makes it possible. Since he was fully human, He relates us to God. Since He was fully God, He relates God to us. The Holy Spirit makes it all real; makes it all known. When we leave Plan A, the Spirit gives us Plan B. He can do this as often as necessary because He knows the mind of God, and He knows our minds as well.
            Now, Jesus didn’t need a Plan B because He was the plan. We need Plan B’s, lots and lots of them. But God is flexible; He has enough Plan B’s for us all and He holds them all simultaneously. This is why Paul can say we know God works everything for good. And this is why I believe the spiritual disciplines are so important. They put us in a place where we can connect to God, where we can be flexible too, where we can literally go with the flow.
            I encourage you all to spend some time today meditating on the Trinity. Consider their different roles and how they relate to you personally. Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus interacting with the Father (in John He says He only does what He sees the Father do). Throughout Acts we see humans interacting with the Holy Spirit. It is no exaggeration to say the relationship between God-the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-is the basis, the foundational principle, the example, for all human relationships (Paul hints at this in Ephesians, speaking of marriage, itself a foundational relational concept). Take some time to listen for God. See if you can learn to discern the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Resolve to obey what you hear, as best as you can. Be patient, persevere. This is what we were created for. Let God change your life; truly change your life.

May the Lord bless you this day and protect you this night. JRG   

Monday, September 19, 2016

19 September 2016
And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” Luke 3:10-14 (NRSV)

            Good evening, welcome. Today’s lectionary jumps from John over to Luke, Vs. 1:1-4, 3:1-14. The passage focuses on John the Baptist. Luke introduces John with a quotation from Isaiah, taken from a section that promises comfort and restoration to Israel. The prophet of old was promising Israel restoration after exile. Luke tells us the newer prophet promises restoration from a different exile. But birthright alone is not enough for this restoration; having the Law is not enough. This new restoration requires repentance and renewal. Renewal requires real change.
            Common, everyday people have come to John seeking renewal. In baptism they have, in a sense, recommitted their lives to God. What to do now? John offers three practical examples of what the fruits of repentance look like in everyday life. Be generous; share what you have with those in need. Be honest in your business dealings; charge a fair price, pay a fair wage; don’t be greedy. Do not abuse your power; treat people fairly. Be satisfied with your wages. Jewish tax collectors-and they were all Jews-were not held in high esteem; they could charge whatever they wished in taxes above what Rome required, and pocket the excess. They were hated, but they were wealthy. Roman soldiers were generally regarded with fear and contempt. Isaiah had said all flesh shall see the salvation of God; it is important to note here John offered this promise to all who came. 
            John ‘prepared the way of the Lord’ by pointing people to their need for a savior. Isaiah had said obstacles will be removed. Everyone will see. As Christians today we have the same mission; in a way we are fulfilling the ancient prophecy along with John. We need to evaluate our behavior regularly-daily is not too often-to see if we have been placing obstacles or removing them. Every unkind word, every haughty remark, anything that lifts us up at the expense of another is an obstacle for which we will be held accountable. Any act that would deny the grace of God to anyone because of age or race or ethnicity or nationality or gender or gender preference or anything else is placing an obstacle. So let’s make it a point to keep the way clear. Discipleship follows, not precedes, conversion.

May the Lord bless you this day and protect you this night. JRG 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

17 September 2016
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. Matthew 11:11-12 (NRSV)
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9 (NRSV)

            Good morning, welcome. Yesterday I inadvertently included today’s Gospel lectionary reading in the blog. That’s ok because now I have the opportunity to talk about a story in today’s local paper, and discuss our response.
            According to the story a Bible was removed from the waiting room of a clinic on a local military base in response to a complaint lodged by a retired vet. The clinic in question provides medical care for active duty and retired vets, and any other vet that may be eligible for benefits. According to the story, our vet emailed the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to express concern that everyone in the waiting room had to stare at the Bible. The end result was the Bible was given to the Hospital Chaplain who will ‘place’ it in the chapel.
            My first thought was why a Bible in a waiting room would make anyone uncomfortable. There are as many answers as there are people in the room, but this particular retiree felt compelled to take action. The whole incident has high conflict potential which we will get to in a minute. For now, let me ask you this-regarding the complainant, what was your first response?
            While you’re thinking that one over, let’s move on to the removal itself. Again, the question-what was your first response? Let’s consider our options. Some will interpret this a blatant denial of their religious freedom. They are the ones who operate in the realm of imposition; the realm where the Kingdom would suffer the violence of those who would impose their views by force. For others, like our retiree, this is an affirmation of their right to be free from any religion. Do you see how the violence of the one incites violence from the other (I am using violence metaphorically here)? In this battle of rights, who is right?  So let’s reframe the question-what response do you think would best demonstrate the Kingdom presence?
            Considering the complainant first, I believe our first response should be prayer for his conversion. We don’t know his circumstance; we do know God desires all men to be saved so we can start here. Not some half-hearted prayer but persistent petitioning for his eternal destiny. Ask God to lead you in this and be open to His response. Maybe He will show this is not to be your concern; that’s ok too.
            Now concerning removing the Bible itself. My first response was the Bible really can’t be removed from anywhere. If you have a smartphone you have access to the Bible. If you want to read it in the waiting room no one would even know, much less attempt to stop you. Which led to this thought-why would you want to isolate yourself from a room full of people in the first place? This is a big part of our problem as a society-we are constantly connected but never related.
             A room full of people-especially in a hospital or doctor’s office-literally begs for the presence of Jesus. I am not talking about preaching here, I’m talking about conversation. Listening. Comforting. Sharing experiences. If you can focus on Facebook for ten minutes (Facebook-social media-how ironic is that) you can listen for five. I mean really listen. If you’re not the outgoing type, that’s ok-you can pray. No one will ever know (although you might be surprised). Except God.
            So I’ll ask again-how do you respond to all this? There’s an opportunity here. Something to think about, next time you find yourself in a waiting room. Any waiting room. Don’t forget to worship tomorrow. Monday Lord willing we get back with the regularly scheduled program.
May the Lord bless you and keep you this weekend. JRG


Friday, September 16, 2016

16 September 2016
After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.
This was to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
“Lord, who has believed our message,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
And so they could not believe, because Isaiah also said,
“He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.” John 12:36-40

Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.” John 12:44-50

            Good morning, welcome. Beginning today we will set aside the Old and New Testament readings for a time and focus on John’s Gospel. Not because these other readings are not important, but, as I said the other day, John is moving into some deep theological waters here; I am simply not comfortable tackling all three. Today Jesus wraps up His public ministry. We will look at three important themes with an eye towards application.

“Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.”  
            Too many to write down, in fact. John explains this with two quotes from Isaiah. The first is from the last suffering servant song (Isa.52:13-53:12), which seems to me to be a rather vivid description of Jesus as the servant (although many others see Israel-probably both are intended). The second is from Isaiah 6 where Isaiah has his vision of the Lord and receives his commission.
            John seems to be saying the Jew’s unbelief was determined by God to facilitate Jesus’ sacrifice. Did God predestine these Jews to unbelief? Well, He is sovereign-He could if He wanted to. Or, would these Jews have not believed anyway, in which case God was reinforcing their own decision, using it to accomplish His purposes? Or both? The take-away for us is belief and unbelief are God’s work, not ours. Jesus never forced His Gospel and neither should we. Nor should we force our values. The Gospel is spread by proclamation, demonstration and example. We bring the Kingdom by being the Kingdom. Which leads to the second point.

Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me…What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.” (Italics mine).
            Jesus is not the Father. He is separate from the Father, and yet He could say when we see Him we see the Father too. He speaks the Father’s words, not His own. There is a relationship here, a unity of purpose that goes straight to the heart of the Trinity. I think where the trinity is concerned we tend to focus too much on the persons and not enough on the relationship between the persons. Once we begin to understand this relationship it becomes easier to see how we ourselves become the presence of Jesus, who became the presence of God. It is, as my mom used to say, just the same, only different.
            The older I become the more firmly I believe relationships are key. John does not say they will know we are Christians by our ability to grasp complicated theological concepts or our strict adherence to correct doctrine; he says they will know by our love. Granted correct doctrine has its place but, as Paul says, if it does not result in love it is nothing. The relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit provides the model for all relationships and, therefore, can be understood to some extent, which we will attempt to do later on in this Gospel. For now, the take-away is to focus or relationships. All relationships. We will not experience one single human interaction today that will not present an opportunity to build someone up. Not one.

I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge.
            This is our final take-away. Jesus did not come to judge, He came to save. We have the same mission. Make no mistake, judgement will occur and Jesus will be involved. We will be involved too, but not as judges. There is one judge and one standard and we are not it. Jesus presented the Father’s plan and left it to His hearers to decide. We must do the same. We must find a way to present it and model it in a way our listeners can relate to (there’s that word again) and leave them to decide. This has a very broad range of implications for us today. I will finish up here with a question. Which do you think is more effective-setting an example, or imposition of will?
May the love of God, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all this day. JRG


Thursday, September 15, 2016

15 September 2016
Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God. Acts 16:30-34 (NRSV)
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” John 12:27-36 (NRSV)

            Good morning, welcome. Our passage in Acts today finds Paul and Silas in jail. Their exorcism of the slave girl had cost her owners money. The owner’s complaint, although motivated by financial loss, accuses Paul and Silas of unlawful religious practice. The magistrates feared rebellion-the one thing Rome would not tolerate-and took immediate action. Paul and Silas were beaten with rods and thrown in jail. Their response? Prayer and worship, a powerful witness to their fellow prisoners. Keep this idea of witness in mind.
            While worshipping a powerful earthquake hits the jail. Doors open, chains unfasten, yet no one leaves. The result is the conversion of the jailer and his entire family. The jailer and his family are immediately baptized. They dressed Paul and Silas’ wounds; share a meal; rejoice over their conversion. There are two supernatural events recorded here-the earthquake, and the conversion. The first was to facilitate the second. The earthquake was not to free Paul and Silas; it was to free the jailer and his family. Paul and Silas had been faithful witnesses. Now the jailer and his family will be as well. But the story isn’t over yet. In the morning the magistrates send police to release Paul and Silas. What they don’t know is the pair are Roman citizens; everything the magistrates had done was highly illegal. Paul demands and receives an apology and is asked to leave.
            Paul and Silas had plenty of opportunities to assert their rights; they did not. This is about being a witness in adversity. It is about people being restored. Paul did not demand an apology for himself; he wanted legitimacy and protection for the church he founded. The take-away here is this. We have rights as American citizens. We also have responsibilities as Kingdom citizens. What we choose affects our witness; our witness may very well affect someone’s eternal destiny. For sure it will affect ours. The jailer was not converted by force of will. He was converted by force of witness.
            In today’s Gospel Jesus hints at what His death will accomplish. For too long sin has given the ruler of this world legitimate claim; this will end when Jesus is lifted up. His death will be for all people; not for a select few. This will glorify the Father whose voice affirms Jesus’ divine mission. The key phrase here is ‘I will draw all people’. I believe all people means all people. I am not addressing faith here, I am addressing availability. Jesus Himself will draw. Our job-our assignment-is to be a witness.
            Once again we see God the Father addressing God the Son. The relationship between the Trinity is the example-the template-for human relationship. Relationship is why we are here. Paul applies this to marriage but Jesus applies it to all relationships when He says ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. Paul shows us what this looks like in Philippi .As you go through your day today, look for opportunities to lift someone up. It doesn’t take much-a smile, addressing the checkout cashier by name, holding a door. Be the witness you are called to be.

May the love of God, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all today. JRG

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

14 September 2016
Then Job answered the Lord:
“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has... Now therefore…go to my servant Job…my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.” Job 42:1-8 (NRSV)
One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. Acts 16:16-18 (NRSV)
Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. John 12:23-26 (NRSV)

            Good morning, welcome. Today we come to the end of Job; these 17 verses literally overflow with insights very much in need today. God has thoroughly grilled Job; vs.1-6 are Job’s final answer. Listen to what he says: ‘I know your purpose cannot be thwarted’; ‘I spoke of things I did not understand’; ‘I knew about you, now I know you’, and in knowing ‘I repent in dust and ashes’. Job has come face to face with God and is forever changed.
            Hear now what God says to Job’s friends-you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done. Go to Job; he will pray for you. Job and his friends will be reconciled, God will forgive them. Finally, God restores Job’s fortunes after he prayed for his friends. Don’t miss this, this is important. Job’s friends have been making all sorts of false accusations against him and misrepresenting God. What is God’s response? Pray for your enemies and I will restore you all. Reconcile with your brothers first; then you will be reconciled with me.
            Do you see the reversals at work here-between Job and God; Job and his friends; his friends and God; Job before and Job after? Don’t miss the final verse-Job died old and full of days. There is a double meaning here-abundant and not cut short. This is yet another passage that lends itself well to thoughtful meditation, which I encourage you all to do. One word of caution-it is all too easy to see how others do not speak what is right about God, and all too difficult to see it in ourselves.
            Paul, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be having much difficulty speaking for God. The Greek text here seems to imply the girl’s powers were somehow tied to the Oracle of Delphi. Luke tells us the girl could predict the future; she made her owners lots of money. She recognized Paul and Silas and the Gospel message they were proclaiming. Some commentators believe Paul exorcised her to disassociate her from the gospel; since Paul would later say in his letter to the Philippians what matters is that Christ is proclaimed, I tend to think this was more about power. Paul was demonstrating his God was superior to the Philippian gods; we will see more of God’s power tomorrow.
            In the Gospel reading we are moving into some very deep water. That John mentions Jesus’ Greek visitors seems to point to Jesus’ death being for ‘the whole world’-exactly what the Pharisees said yesterday. Jesus says His death will bring life and warns His followers must be willing to surrender their lives as well. The choice is clear. Following Jesus is not just adopting a new set of beliefs or rituals; it requires an entirely new life. The old and the new cannot coexist. This is total, radical transformation-the new creation of 2 Cor.5:17. Jesus uses strong language to emphasize the fact that no compromise is permitted; this is an all or nothing surrender.
            There is a duality of sorts at work here-the seed dies once but the life it produces goes on. I think the parallel for us is we make the one decision resulting in salvation and new life which then requires a series of decisions for that new life to grow. It is not so much a turning away but a turning towards-the mind taking on a new order matching the new life by focusing on new things.
            Our final thought for today is this-God never did explain Himself to Job. What He did do was offer-and require-reconciliation. This is His offer and His requirement for us as well. Who can you offer reconciliation to today?
May the love of God, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship if the Holy Spirit be with you all this day. JRG


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

13 September 2016
They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. Acts 16:6-10 (NRSV)
When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus. John 12:9-11 (NRSV)

            Good morning, welcome. Today we leave God and Job to their discussion and turn to Paul and Silas in Macedonia; and to Jesus and Lazarus entering Jerusalem. In Paul’s time Macedonia was a Roman province in southeastern Europe, north of Greece; Philippi was the capital city. Acts tells us Philippi was not Paul’s first choice. The Holy Spirit forbid him to go to Asia. The Spirit of Jesus did not allow him to go to Bithynia. God, through a vision, called him to Macedonia. Note the phrases Luke uses-Holy Spirit, Spirit of Jesus, God. This is a clear reference to the Trinity and I can’t help but wonder why Luke would refer to God in this way (don’t be too quick to rush to judgement here; the answer might not be as simple as you think). At any rate, we are seeing the outward expansion of the gospel, under God’s direction.
            And so Paul and Silas find themselves in Philippi, by the river, the place of prayer, on the Sabbath, preaching to an audience of women. An unlikely place; an unusual audience. One of them, Lydia, was a dealer in purple cloth. Purple, the color of royalty. Luke tells us the Lord opened her heart; she and her household were baptized. She says to Paul ‘if you have judged me a faithful servant’-reminiscent of Abraham in Genesis 18. Interesting to note here both speakers, people of wealth and influence, refer to themselves as servants. What we see here is that conversion is God’s work from start to finish. Since we never know who will be receptive we should never rule anyone out. We also see hospitality is good. Remember, it isn’t just inviting people into your home; it is sharing your life and in the process sharing God as well.
            The Gospel for today, despite describing Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, is not quite so cheerful. Calling Lazarus back from the dead was, in a sense, the beginning of the end for Jesus; the proverbial last straw for the Pharisees. Jesus enters Jerusalem as the prophesied King of Israel but He is not bringing the Kingdom the crowd expects. Lazarus himself has become a liability. The whole world may be going after Jesus today; by the end of the week it will be a different story.
            There is a bit of a paradox here in that the religious leaders are moving God’s plan forward even though they recognize neither God with them nor His plan. Indeed they are totally unaware of their own key role. All this may be interesting but how does it help us in our day to day lives? By reminding us relationship with God is so much more important than knowing about God. We are seeking to know and accept, not control or manipulate. Prayer may enable us to work with God to determine the outcome of events but God will never violate His own nature in the process.
            Take some time today to open yourself up to God’s presence. Do you feel some small tug in one direction or another? Has God sent you to a place where you did not intend to go? To people you did not intend to see or, worse, whom you do not even like? Good. Someone there needs you. Or Him. Or both.
May the love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit guide you this day. JRG


Monday, September 12, 2016

12 September 2016
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Gird up your loins like a man;
I will question you, and you declare to me. Job 40:6-7 (NRSV)
Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. Acts 15:37-40 (NRSV)
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” John 12:4-8 (NRSV)

            Good morning, welcome. In today’s lectionary reading God continues to respond to Job. Most commentators consider vs.6 and following to be the Lord speaking. However, some allow for the possibility that vs.8 and 10-14 constitute another challenge by Job to the Lord’s authority. In this case Job would be challenging God to reveal His essence by bringing down the proud-presumably his friends who continue to falsely accuse him. Only then will Job acknowledge God’s true power. In vs.15-24 God ignores Job’s demands, reminding him He alone has power and authority over all creation.         
            If this second interpretation is correct, we can certainly identify with Job’s frustration. Remember, he has lost all his possessions, lost all his children, his body is covered with boils and sores and his wife is encouraging him to curse God and die. Job has lived with integrity and yet his friends, claiming to understand how God works, refuse to accept his innocence and continue to urge him to admit to sins he did not commit. Job has absolutely no idea what is happening to him or why. We can easily imagine him demanding God pour out his anger on those who actually deserve His punishment. Only then he will acknowledge God’s power and justice.
             And then there’s verse 8: “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you even condemn me that you may be justified?” (Italics mine). Would God really accuse Job falsely just to make Himself look good? Is God really allowing this just to make some cosmic point? If this seems harsh, remember-God does not see things the way we see them. These are not casual questions-they demand careful thought. Job will come around and be restored; his friends will be exposed; but God never does fully explain Himself.
            Anger figures in the Acts passage as well. After Paul and Barnabus decided to set out on the second missionary journey they argued over whether or not to take John Mark. Barnabus favored restoring Mark; Paul would have none of it. Luke tells us their “disagreement became so sharp they parted company” (15:39). Eventually Paul and Mark were reconciled, but, given the close relationship Paul and Barnabus had developed the situation must have been heated indeed.
            Our Gospel lesson also addresses anger, sort of. Judas Iscariot becomes indignant when Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. Judas wanted the money for the poor (or does he; John tells us Judas was, in fact, a thief). Jesus says the poor will always be with them but He will not. These words may be hard to understand but I think they have to do with honoring Jesus with a simple act of kindness. Remember, Judas was a thief. He was paying lip service to the mission but Mary was demonstrating love for Our Lord. Judas’ anger represents those who care more for outward appearance (and getting their own way). Jesus reminds us once again love is the greater law.
            So there you have it. Three anger events. It seems to me the common thread is a focus on self-I haven’t done anything to deserve this; I was betrayed and I won’t let it happen again; I want those things for myself.  When you have your next anger event, take a few seconds to see if you fall into one of these categories-self-justification, betrayal, envy. Or some combination. Or none. But just taking the time to think about it will help you deal with it. Anger and frustration are a part of life. We do not need to hide these feelings from God-He has heard it all before and, besides, He already knows. Let God be God. Let Him turn your anger into something better.

May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

10 September 2016
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? Job 38:4-7 (NRSV)
“Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” Acts 15:24-29 (NRSV)
“So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.” John 11:47-53 (NRSV)

            Good morning, welcome. Imagine for a moment being present, with the heavenly host, for the beginning moments of creation. Try to get a sense of the awe and wonder and hilarious joy as God spoke and things popped up. Let there be light. “Whoa, look at that; what is that?” Let the waters be gathered together. “Look-what do you think He’ll do with that?” Let the earth put forth vegetation. “Ohhh, look at all that stuff. How cool is that!” Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures. “Look at that thing. What do you think its doing?” “It looks like it’s playing”. “Shhh, listen. Do you hear that?” “Yes, it sounds like He’s laughing!” “He is. He’s watching that silly creature, and He’s laughing!”
            God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them…from the dust of the earth, and breathed the breath of life into him, and the man became a living being. “What’s He doing now?” “Shhh, be quiet! I can’t see!”. “It looks like He’s playing in the dirt”. “No, He’s making something”. “He’s hovering over it…oooh, what is that?” “It’s alive, it’s just like us”. “No, it isn’t like us. It’s different. I think everything He made is for it”. “Why would He do that?” “Because He loves it”. “What about us?” “I think He has something very special planned for us, now.”
            Our lectionary reading for today has come to the place where Job, after challenging God to find fault with him, finally receives his answer. Up to this point the Job’s friends, claiming to have understanding in these matters, have been encouraging him to come clean and confess whatever sin he has been covering up. Job for his part continually asserts his innocence. Yesterday he challenged God; today God speaks. Although many important themes are interwoven throughout Job, what speaks most clearly to me, what I think about every time I post a blog or teach a Sunday School class or discuss the Bible, is the danger of misrepresenting God to others.
            Misrepresenting God is what Job’s friends have been doing. Misrepresenting God ultimately led to the letter Paul and Barnabus took to Antioch in order to clear up those misrepresentations. And although Caiaphas prophesied, John made it clear he really didn’t know what he was saying. My point is this-many people are claiming to speak for God today. From scholars and pastors with extensive theological training and a lifetime of experience to everyday folks like me who just want to share some practical insight or two, between TV, radio, internet, social media and good old fashioned print, the possibilities are endless, and there is a lot of good, helpful stuff out there.
            My concern is with those who, having a particular point of view, will pick and choose ‘proof texts’ to support their beliefs and use their positions to influence our thinking in order to produce specific behavior outcomes; those who ‘darken counsel by words without knowledge’. We must be very careful whom we follow. God reveals Himself to humanity-I think He delights in revealing Himself to humanity-but we must allow ourselves to be open to and aware of His presence. This is where our leaders should be leading us. This is knowing God, rather than knowing about God, and it is why we are here. I believe God greatly desires to live in and work through us today, but we must learn how to be open to His presence; we must learn the unconditional love and trust He requires; we must learn how to engage Him in our day to day lives. This is character transformation and it is not designed to produce specific behavior (although it certainly will) but to enable us to be who He created us to be. It doesn’t come naturally, we must work at it.
             The little meditation at the beginning of this blog was inspired by Job 38:7-the morning stars singing for joy. Try it for yourself. Imagine being present at creation. Think of Genesis 1 and 2 as a narrative filled with awe and wonder and unlimited power and a love we will never understand but must simply trust rather than some sterile account of the beginning. This love has a name and it is Jesus, the Christ and He is for everyone who will come. So come. See for yourself. Determine to spend some time with Him every day; remembering He is God and we are not. See where that leads you. And, of course, don’t forget to worship with your brothers and sisters tomorrow.   
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. Revelation 22:17; 20-21


Friday, September 9, 2016

9 September 2016
“The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, “My brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name…Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every Sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:12-15; 19-21 NRSV).

            Good morning, welcome. Our passage today is from the Daily Lectionary as published by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. This lectionary is available on the PCUSA web site and through their free Daily Prayer App. The lectionary follows a two-year cycle that reads through most of the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice. I think following the lectionary will better accomplish my original intent here-to offer some practical ways to demonstrate Christ’s presence in our day to day lives by reaching out to others. The lectionary includes three readings; the app also has Psalms and prayers. The readings are listed below; the app itself is a great devotional, with different prayers for different times of the day.
            Today we look at Acts 15:12-21. Paul and Barnabus have just completed Paul’s first missionary journey; in Pisidian Antioch “…they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles” (14:27). However, their success, created a whole new problem-how can Jews and Gentiles fellowship with one another, given the differences in lifestyles and traditions. Acts 15:1 gets right to the heart of the issue: “Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”. Actually, there is more than just fellowship at stake here. Paul has been teaching grace alone is sufficient; now it appears some believing Jews seem intent upon keeping the Law as well. This is about more than just keeping religious traditions. The issue involves deeply held beliefs handed down over thousands of years; change will not come easily.
            Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem, reporting everything God had been doing among the Gentiles; some believing Pharisees pressed for the necessity of circumcision and keeping the Law. They were saying, in order to become Christian, Gentiles must first become Jews. After much debate Peter defends Paul, pointing out  in 15:8-10 the Gentiles have received the Holy Spirit just as the Jews had-“God… testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear” Acts 15:8-10.
            We pick up the story in vs.12, where James, quoting Amos and Isaiah, proposes a compromise-Gentiles do not need to be circumcised. They do need to avoid idolatry and unchastity, and avoid eating meat that had been strangled or still had blood. Two moral rules, and two ritual rules-two diverse cultures can now come together in fellowship. James finishes by saying “For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every Sabbath in the synagogues” (15:21). He is saying there are still many believing Jews who observe the ceremonial law and offending them will accomplish nothing. James does not say it but my thinking is these Jews, who see Jesus as the fulfillment of their rituals and observances, would have much to teach new Gentile believers. Once they get past their differences and listen to each other.
            Here is a lesson we desperately need to see today. Not just that there is a need for compromise, or that compromise is ok, but when we actually listen to one another there is opportunity for real learning.  As I said the other day, all too often we define ourselves by what we are against. When we do this, the wall goes up, the line is drawn; those who believe what we oppose defend their position, we defend our position, and both sides become stagnant, pools of dead water with no source or outlet. Eventually they evaporate, leaving nothing but dried up earth.
            It seems today many believe any compromise is a sign of weakness. Entire political systems and worldviews-and churches-are built around this belief. Their primary focus-their only focus-in on doctrinal purity. Strict adherence to doctrine becomes more important than actually helping those in need. In the case of churches, these ‘remnant churches’ believe they are the guardians of correct doctrine; they are usually small and proud to be small. In focusing on doctrine (which is important, I am not saying it is not) they miss what God is doing in the world around them.
            In our passage James is cautioning against deliberately giving offense, while at the same time allowing various faith communities-faith traditions, if you well-to keep their identities. He is showing us God will work according to His will, not according to our expectations. And in fact, this idea of paradigm shift where God is concerned runs through all three readings today. We see it in Job’s conversations with his friends. We see it in the mourners who failed to see Lazarus’ death was for God’s glory. We also see it in Jesus Himself, who, being fully human, is moved by anger and sorrow even though, being fully God, He is about to demonstrate the Father’s awesome power, the point where full humanity and full deity will come together in a perfect demonstration of what Jesus came to do-give life.
            These stories are made-for-meditation moments. Meditating on Acts, we feel the tension; hear the impassioned pleas and marvel at the wisdom of one who knows both the Scriptures and the God of whom they speak. In the Gospel story we allow ourselves to see how Jesus fully identifies with our humanity and allow ourselves to be blown away by the remarkable demonstration of divine power. Now, obviously we cannot go around bring mortal enemies together or raising people from the dead. But we can do something else. We can encourage people to listen to one another, to search out common ground (by the way, this is much easier to do when only a few people are involved). We can learn to identify-and identify with-with those less fortunate. We can raise them up in some small-or not so small-way, restoring their dignity and along with it the image of God lying beneath the surface, just waiting to be released.
            These are themes we have seen before and will see again. This is the mandate given us as citizens of the Kingdom. Search for common ground when we disagree. Give no offence, as much as it depends on you. Do not disregard those less fortunate. In fact, the cruelest thing of all may very well be looking past someone as if they do not exist, refusing even to acknowledge their presence.  Spend some time thinking about how Jesus loved Lazarus and remember He loves us the same way. Because He was fully human He knows what it’s like. Because He is fully God He can make it better. Because we are His, we can make it better too.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all this day. JRG
Today’s readings
Job 29:1; 31:24-40
Acts 15:12-21

John 11:30-44