Thursday, April 13, 2017

Peter, However Got Up and Ran

Image result for empty tomb




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Scripture for Sunday, April 16, 2017: Luke 24:1-12


The women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, don’t know it is Easter Sunday morning.  When they go to the graveyard they come looking for the dead body of Jesus.  He died on Friday.  On Saturday they rested.  On Sunday they search for the dead, where the dead can be found.  They come to the tomb.  But they cannot find the dead body.  Did robbers come?  Have wild animals dragged the body away?  Were they in the right graveyard?  It couldn’t be resurrection.  Could it?  While they wonder what happened to the body two angels begin asking hard questions, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

What kind of question is this?  With their own eyes they had seen Jesus dead and buried in this very tomb.  That was the sad end to what began as a glorious week.  On Palm Sunday hope soared.  The long expected Messiah, who would establish the Kingdom of God, was acknowledged by the crowds.  But then on Friday the hopes of the women and the eleven disciples died and the seeds of doubt were sown.
 
The angels’ question pushes the women past the doubt that is growing in their hearts by reminding them of Jesus’ own testimony, “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”    
   
I suspect our instinct is to go easy of the women and on the disciples.  After all, we are familiar with doubt and acquainted with unbelief.  We all have hopes that God’s plan for us will include success, happiness and security.  When failure, sadness and insecurity strike our hopes die and we bury them.  These buried hopes can be seeds of doubt.  There was that relationship that you hoped and prayed would be reconciled, but it ended in divorce.  Hope died, was buried, and now you are doubting that God values marriage.  There is that addiction you thought had been conquered, but when you least expect it overwhelms you with a ferocity that cannot be combated.  Your hope to be free from addiction is buried, and you begin to doubt that God has conquered sin.  Grief wells up at an awkward moment.  And your hope that you were moving on dies a little, and you doubt that God gives the victory over the sting of death. 

Friends, Jesus is risen.  Although we might enter Easter with seeds of doubt because of dead hopes, our doubt cannot stop Easter life.  The resurrection is powerful enough to enliven the hopes that lie dead and buried in our past, present and even our future.  Easter teaches us that even dead hopes can be transformed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Reflection: 
1.       What hopes for either yourself or others have died in you?
2.       Have these dead hopes sprouted into doubt?  Do you carry doubt into this Easter season?

Using your sanctified imagination, imagine the hopes that have died being buried with Christ.  Imagine these dead hopes being raised with Christ.    

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Standing in the Rain with Rizpah

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Scripture for Sunday, April 9, 2017:  2 Samuel 21:1-14

David's release of seven of Saul's sons and grandsons to be executed by the Gibeonites is as hard to read as it is to understand.  It's an ugly story.  Why does David, a man after God's own heart, turn over to death the descendants of a man whose life he spared again and again? 

The Gibeonites were Canaanites who, under false pretenses, made a treaty with Joshua to live at peace with the Israelites (see Joshua 9).  Even though the Gibeonites had lied to them, Israel honored the peace agreement made in the LORD's name.  While Saul was by no means innocent of slaughtering unsuspecting people (see 1 Samuel 22:17-19), there is no biblical account of Saul killing the Gibeonites.

As this passage opens, David finds his kingdom in trouble.  The country has had a famine and continues to experience political tension.  David's handover of Saul's sons and grandsons both attends to the issue of Saul's guilt and appeases the Gibeonites.  But it also serves to solidify David's rule: young men of Saul's line who could have threatened David's throne are executed.

It's interesting that David inquires of the Lord about the famine; but not about a way to remove Saul's guilt.  That question is reserved for the Gibeonites, who are not known for their trustworthiness.  Was the only way to make peace with Gibeon truly to execute the two sons of Rizpah and the five sons of Merab?

Saul's concubine Rizpah, mother of Armoni and Mephibosheth, is given no recorded words in Scripture.  But her life speaks. 

Rizpah has lost the protection afforded to her as a member of Saul's household; and now by King David's authorization she loses any protection offered by her sons.  She has nowhere else to go and no way to appeal.  So she climbs the hill where her sons lie dead, spreads out the fabric of grief, and camps out on a rock. 

There she is with Armoni and Mephibosheth, day after day.  There she is, shouting at the sky, chasing off the birds.  There she is, threatening the wild animals with sticks.  There she is--for months!--from the time the barley begins to ripen in March until the autumn rains begin to fall on the land.  She will not forget them, and she won't let others forget either.

Rizpah's protest reaches King David.  David gathers the remains of Saul and Jonathan, killed by the Philistines; and the remains of Saul's seven sons and grandsons, and gives them all a suitable burial in their family tomb.

And then, after David honors Saul's family, God answers prayers for famine relief.


Reflection:

1.  Rizpah is good company for those who grieve for the lives or injustices done to their children.  She has limited power but demonstrates courageous protest in the wake of grief.  How might God bring you encouragement through her? 

2.  We serve a Savior who knows each one of us and calls us by name.  We are precious to him.  Rather than "hand us over" to the destruction we deserve, in his great mercy Christ handed over himself.

Using your sanctified imagination, imagine how the story of 2 Samuel 21 would be different if David handed over himself to the Gibeonites to atone for Saul's sin.  I can hardly imagine it.  Yet this is what Christ, our King, has done for us.            

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Things That Make for Peace

 
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Scripture for Sunday, April 2:  1 Samuel 25
Additional Scripture: Colossians 1:15-23
(Be sure to read 1 Samuel 25 before reading on.)
 
Any one of the named characters in the account of Nabal, David, and Abigail is interesting in his or her own right. 
 
Nabal, the fool who lives up to his name, values his wealth and lifestyle above the breath of life itself.  His foolishness backfires, and Nabal's life gets cut short.
 
David, the LORD's anointed king, has just demonstrated extraordinary restraint in sparing Saul's life--because Saul, too, is the LORD's anointed king.  Yet here, David's anger burns against Nabal.  He is more than ready to take vengeance into his own hands.  
 
And then there's Abigail, whose reputation for wisdom and loveliness blooms despite a marriage environment that could shrivel wisdom and loveliness in a hurry.
 
But Abigail sees the crisis coming upon her household with clarity.  She responds decisively.  She hears the news that David and 400 men are marching on her household and takes action.
 
She brings an ample gift--probably from Nabal's food supply for the shearing festival:  200 loaves of bread; two containers of wine; five prepared sheep; roasted grain, raisins and figs. 
 
She takes her life into her hands, riding out to seek peace between the enraged David and the members of Nabal's household. 
 
She speaks with humility, courage, and vision about the LORD's purposes in David's life.  With wisdom and tact, she calls David to consider what effect his intended actions will have on his future kingship. 
 
Abigail's courage, humility, and wisdom are remarkable.  And her appeal douses the flames in David's soul.
 
When I read this story, I want to identify with Abigail, the level-headed hero.  She takes a stand between folly and anger--potentially at great personal cost--
and brings peace. 
 
Abigail reminds us of another intercessor--
one who left his Father's household at great personal cost, who gave us the bread and wine of the new covenant, and who calls us to a new kind of life. 
 
For Reflection:
 
When I read this account, I realize that maybe Abigail is who I want to be; but sometimes I am foolish Nabal.  Sometimes I am angry David.  The Bible "reads us" when it points out elements of our living, thinking, and being that are out of line in God's kingdom.
 
 
What aspects or elements of this account encourage you as you live in God's presence? 
 
What aspects or elements of this account may the Spirit be drawing to your attention to correct you?
 
Hallelujah!  We have a Savior who intercedes for us; a Spirit who strengthens us for lives that please God; and a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on.  Thanks be to God. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

God, Gideon, and the Power of the Cross

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Old Testament Winepress

Scripture for Sunday, 3/26:  Judges 6:11-24
 
Additional Scripture:  The entire Gideon story, Judges 6-9; 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

Last week found us in Joshua 2, at the beginning of the Israelites' entry into the Promised Land under Joshua's leadership.  This week, we pick up the story several generations after Joshua in the book of Judges.

Judges 17:6 summarizes the theme of Judges:  "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." 

Judges has a repeating narrative cycle:  God's people worship other gods; God gets their attention through enemy oppression; the people repent; God raises up a judge who delivers them; and the people and their land are at peace....until the next time they sin.

This week we are listening for God's good news through the account of Gideon.  Israel has been suffering for seven years under devastating invasions from the Midianites.  It's not too strong to say Midian was terrorizing them and their land.  Just as Israel's wheat would ripen, hordes of Midianites would swoop in, carry off the cattle, and pick the land clean.

The Israelites are hungry.  And weary.  And reduced to stockpiling food in caves.  Finally, 6:6 says, they cried out to the Lord for help.

In answer, God sends a prophet who reminds Israel of their covenant to love God only.  And God sends his angelic messenger with a military commission for a man named Gideon. 

There's Gideon, separating wheat from chaff not on an open threshing floor as usual, but in a winepress.  It's harder work down in the confined space of the press, but at least he'll be able to eat.

"The LORD is with you, mighty warrior," the angel calls. 
 
It's almost a joke:  Gideon's name means "one who cuts down," and can be used in a military sense.  Most often it refers to cutting down idols--one way Gideon will live up to his name to after God sends him. 
 
But at this point, this mighty warrior isn't cutting anything down but the wheat he is trying to save for his family.
 
"Pardon me, my Lord,"  Gideon says, "If the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?  Where are all his wonderful deeds...?  He has forsaken us and turned us over to Midian."

Then, in answer to the very problem Gideon just named, the LORD turns to Gideon with a strong command.  "Go in your strength; you will deliver Israel from Midian."
 
Gideon isn't too sure about this plan.  "Pardon me, Lord.  How will I deliver Israel?  My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father's house."

The LORD says to him, "I will be with you, and you will defeat Midian as if they are one man."
 
Gideon's words and actions show his hand.  The Midianite raids have had a demoralizing effect on the tribe of Manasseh.  Gideon has little confidence his identity as a mighty warrior.  As he responds to God's commission, he asks God for sign after reassuring sign:  "If it is you, stay here until I come back."  "Make the fleece wet and the ground dry."  "Make the fleece dry and the ground wet."
 
Through his forthcoming military career, Gideon walks a teeter-totter between insecurity and pride.  He goes in the power of the LORD to defeat Midian; and the LORD makes certain that Gideon and the Israelites will know that it is Yahweh who has delivered them, reducing an army of 32,000 to only 300 fighters (Judges 7:2). 

Yet after he finishes the Midianites and the Amalekites, Gideon turns away from the Lord, crafting an golden ephod that ensnares him, his family...and the whole nation.

How does someone live in a place of obedient trust, relying on God's strength and seeing his power firsthand, without being either a) insecure and insignificant; or b) prideful and self-reliant?   This is the question that Rev. Jonker will delve into on Sunday. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Telling the Stories of Jericho

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Scripture for Sunday, March 19:  Joshua 2:1-16
Additional passages that mention Rahab:  Matthew 1:5, Hebrews 11 (v. 31) , James 2:14-26 (v. 25)

The account of Rahab and her Israelite visitors rivals modern spy thrillers for seediness.  Deceit, debauchery, and death threats all figure into this story. 

It's enough to make us stumble over our words retelling this story to our youngest brothers and sisters.  Can we really read this in church?

I'm pretty sure I grew up believing that although Rahab was a prostitute, certainly the spies Joshua sent were morally pure.

Probably, I thought, Rahab's brothel was the only safe house they could find in Jericho.  Certainly the spies just sought a place to sleep before they got back to the dangerous work of spying.

Or not. 

In Joshua 1, just after receiving his own commands from God to "be strong and courageous," Joshua receives encouragement from the Israelite people to "be strong and courageous."  Along with that encouragement, the people pledge to obey Joshua. 

The next thing Joshua does is give orders to his two spies:  "Go see the land, especially Jericho." 
So, the text says, in answer to Joshua's orders, the spies "went, and went into the house of a prostitute."

That is not, shall we say, precisely what Joshua ordered them to do. 

And so it is that the very first people coming into the land God promised to their ancestors already seem unfit to represent a Holy God to a world that doesn't know him.

But here is where the spy thriller gets really interesting.  Because Rahab the prostitute, of all people, preaches to God's chosen spies.

"I know that the LORD gave this land to you.  We are all terrified of you.  Because we heard that the Lord dried up the water of the sea when you left from Egypt.  And we heard how you completely exterminated your enemies on the other side of the Jordan.  We heard and our hearts melted.  We are so afraid we can hardly breathe," she says.

Rahab's words about the palpable fear in Jericho calls to mind the spies' injunction to be strong and courageous.  Their God has promised the land to Israel, and Jericho's inhabitants know it.  The upcoming battle is God's, not theirs.

Best of all, Rahab speaks to the spies of who their God is:  "The Lord your God, he is God in heaven above and on the earth below."  In other words, Your God is God of everything that is.

I wonder what it was like for the spies to hear the truth about God on the lips of an outsider and a prostitute.  I wonder what it was like for them, on assignment to spy out the land, to witness how God was already at work in that land. 

Whatever other report the spies made when they returned to Joshua, they could say at least this much:  In the shadowlands of Jericho, and in the hearts and minds of its inhabitants, God was making his presence known and bringing fear upon his enemies. 

God was already fighting the battle for Israel before Israel even crossed the Jordan for battle.  And maybe that was what the spies really needed to know.


Reflect
1)  Has there been a time in your life when God went ahead of you, preparing your path in a way that surprised you?

2)  Have you seen or heard a testimony of God's grace from someone you didn't expect to be his witness?

3)  What encouragement might you receive from this story in your own life of faith?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Lying with Jacob at the Bottom of the Stairs

 


Scripture for Sunday, March 12:  Genesis 28:10-22

Additional Scripture:  John 1:43-50Romans 9:6-16
 
Isaac's son Jacob was born to climb the ladder. 

Before Jacob's infant eyes even saw the light of day, he had the advantage.  His mother Rebekah, perplexed by her babies' violent struggle during the pregnancy, asked God what was going on.

God's answer was honest but not reassuring.  "Two nations are in your womb,"  God said. "Two people will be separated from within you...and the older will serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23).   

When the time came for Rebekah to deliver, Jacob was born grasping his brother's heel, poised to get ahead by pulling Esau back. 


Jacob was a climber.  And during his youth, climbing is exactly what Jacob did, capitalizing on others' weakness to his own advantage.
 
There was that time Esau had been out hunting and came home famished.  And Jacob trapped the hunter with a bowl of stew. 


"Oh, you'd like some stew, Brother Esau?  Well, that'll cost you.  I'll sell it for the low, low price of... your birthright."
 
Then there was the time Father Isaac was near death.  Jacob secured the irrevocable blessing of the firstborn son through deception and disguise.   

In our passage for this Sunday, Jacob has hit bottom.  He's on the run from Esau, sleeping out under the stars with a rock at his head.  This is no place for a guy who likes his creature comforts.


And to this lying, cheating climber, God comes in a dream.  Heaven opens, and Jacob sees God's messengers the angels coming up and down the ladder.  From the top of the ladder, God speaks: 
 

"I am Yahweh, the God of your Father Abraham and the God of Isaac," God says.  "The land you're lying on, Jacob, is yours.  I am giving it to YOU and to your descendants, who will be as numerous as the dust of the earth, who will be a blessing to the other nations."

In other words, "I am the God of your fathers, Jacob; and I will be your God too." 

"Look, I'll be with you.  I'll protect you wherever you go.  I will bring you back to this land, and I will not abandon you until I do what I have promised." 

Jacob wakes up, and he knows that what he saw was more than a dream.  He hasn't climbed his way to heaven; God has come to him. 

"Certainly Yahweh is in this place, and I didn't know it," Jacob says. 

Through the vision and his voice, God graciously shows Jacob what is ultimately important:  life with Yahweh, the God of his fathers.  And Jacob is afraid.

We might expect that one single, indisputable gracious encounter with God would instantly reform the cheating climber's ways.  But that's not what happens.

Jacob meets God's proposal to be his God with a counter proposal, changing the terms of the offer given by God. 

"IF the Lord God is with me," Jacob says, "If he protects me and gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and if I return to my father's house in peace, THEN the Lord will become my God."

Jacob can't simply accept the blessing at Bethel.  But God sticks with Jacob, and one day at the Jabbok River Jacob recognizes this God's blessing as a blessing worth fighting for. 


Thankfully, God's promise does not depend on Jacob's response. God himself makes the ultimate deal with Jacob's descendants, blessing the whole world by opening the gate of heaven and poking a ladder down to us in the person of Jesus Christ. 


The cross of Christ is for climbers and deal makers.  It's for people learning how to trust and people learning how to reframe our lives on the basis of God's promise.  We don't have to climb the ladder to reach God; Jesus Christ willingly climbed on a cross to bring God near to us.


Reflect:

1)  How might you be drawn toward "climbing the ladder" in different areas?  (Social status, career aspirations, home decor, physical fitness, personal financial management, etc.)  How might "climbing" be good?  How might "climbing" inhibit you?


2)  Who in your life helps keep you honest and focused about your motivations and pursuit of goals? 
 

3)  For additional reflection on climbing the ladder and investing your life, read David Brooks' Op-Ed "The Moral Bucket List."

 

 

 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Eating With Our Enemies


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Scripture:  2 Kings 6:8-23
Additional Passages:  Romans 12:17-21, Colossians 1:15-23


I can't say that I have ever invited an outright enemy over for dinner. 

can remember mealtimes with family or friends that were tense for a variety of reasons.  The stress of life or unexpected disagreements have the potential to shake up an otherwise peaceful dinner
 
Tension makes great food stick in your throat.
 
Once in college I was entrusted with the task of cutting my husband Josh's hair (we were dating at the time).  I was not a trained stylist.  We were under-equipped with haircutting tools.  Two hours into the haircut, it became clear that this project was not going well.
 
We had to pause the haircut midway through.  My father was coming to my apartment for dinner. 

The three of us ate wonderful lasagna together very, very quietly.

I imagine it would be hard to sit and choke down a meal in the presence of an enemy.  And yet that is what the Elisha, his servant, and the king of Israel offer their enemies in this week's passage.
 
The Arameans are hungry and thirsty.  They are invading the towns of Israel, the land flowing with milk and honey.  Time after time their invasions are foiled as Elisha warns the king of Israel of the Arameans' plans. 
 
Finally the king of Aram gets so frustrated that he tries to root out the spy in his ranks.  "Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?" he says.
 
Learning that it's Elisha's God-given ability to warn the king that thwarts his plans, the king of Aram sends a great army to surround the city of Dothan and capture Elisha.
 
Elisha's servant responds with understandable despair:  "Oh no, my lord.  What shall we do?"
 
Elisha answers in a surprising way:  "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them," Elisha says.  God opens the servant's eyes to see the blazing presence of heavenly armies on the surrounding hills.
 
God's armies dazzle the Arameans' eyes.  They are blind and can't see to strike Elisha.
 
"You've got the wrong town," Elisha tells the army.  "Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you seek."
 
Elisha takes the army to the capital city of Samaria.  He delivers the enemy army right into the gates of the Israelite king. 
 
The Israelite king responds with understandable vengeance:  "Shall I kill them, my father?  Shall I kill them?"
 
And Elisha answers again in a surprising way:  "Do not kill them," he answers.  "These armies don't really belong to you--you didn't capture them.  Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and go to their master."
 
"So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking....so the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israelite territory."
 
No "cup of water, crust of bread" meal here.  The king of Israel prepares a great feast for his enemies.  And the raiding stops.
 
Some time later, another King of Israel will prepare a great feast for his enemies.  He will say things like this:  "Bless those who persecute you.  "Do good to those who hate you."  

He will be the kind of rabbi who eats with tax collectors and "sinners."  He will offer ultimate  hospitality to his enemies--a warm welcome for those who are enemies of God, making peace with his blood.

Reflect:
1)  Who in life is your enemy?  We ultimately struggle against sin, our fallen flesh, and Satan's deceptions and designs; but in what ways do those enemies have faces or names?  Confess the identity of your enemies to yourself and to your Lord.

2)  Ask God to show you how much he has loved you, and how much he has done to take you--his enemy--into his household.   

3)  Then ask God to show you how the peace offered by Jesus Christ might speak into your circumstance with your enemy.  Is there something you need to learn more about?  Something you need to forgive?  Is there something you need to confess?  Something you need simply to pray about for a period of time?