Tag Archives: Christianity

Christianity amidst chaos

given on Sunday, July 30, 2017

Scripture connections: using the NLT translation

 Opening: Matthew 13:34

“I will speak to you in parables.
I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.

 Sermon connections:

Matthew 13:33

33 Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

 I Corinthians 5:6-8

Your boasting about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old “yeast” by removing this wicked person from among you. Then you will be like a fresh batch of dough made without yeast, which is what you really are. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.[a]So let us celebrate the festival, not with the old bread[b] of wickedness and evil, but with the new bread[c] of sincerity and truth.

Closing: Psalm 105:1-2

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.

Reflection: Christianity Amidst Chaos

As the week started and we turned on the morning news, once again chaos greeted us. Chaos seems to follow us as we step out of our homes and into the community around us. And sometimes we do not even leave our house to find chaos—and I am just thinking about housecleaning.

Chaos can be openly evident, but it can also be easily disguised. The insanity of the political arena is one form of chaos, and then there is the chaos created by natural events such as the rainstorms we have witnessed this week in Kansas City. Chaos even lines the store aisles as the merchants frantically shift from one sales season to the next—right now the workers are filling the shelves with the back to school supplies in every shape, color and style imaginable.

Where, in the midst of this insanity, do we as Christians live out the very principles of loving God and loving one another? How do we keep the priority of loving one another over all the pressure to live as the others live in our society? How do we even have a chance to demonstrate and share the benefits of Christian living?

Paul wrote the letter to Corinthians trying to encourage them to live in a community where pagan worship flourished, different cultures existed, and immoral lifestyles tempted them. The first eight chapters of I Corinthians develops a picture that really is no different than today’s culture. The practice of sacrifices and pagan worship may not be openly evident, but other forms or pagan worship do exist. For instance, consider the idolization of the various sports figures and movie stars. Is that not a form of pagan worship?

Again, Biblical literature is just as applicable today as it was 2,000 years ago when Paul was writing and even thousands of years before God even sent Christ to demonstrate Christian living. His letters encouraged the young Christian churches to maintain their faithfulness in the midst of the peer pressure from the non-Christians in their immediate community.

Peer pressure is a mighty force to manage. We become so accustomed to living in harmony with those around us, that sometimes it is easy to just agree with others even in a casual conversation and we fail to maintain our Christian principles. Think about gossip. Standing in a small group talking with friends about the latest local news can easily turn into a judgmental conversation that does not demonstrate Christian love.

As parents and adults, teaching kids about resisting peer pressure seems to be easy, but then how many times do we give in to our own peers. Do we join in the worship of the Hollywood icons? Do we let our interest in the local sports teams over rule our worship time?

In today’s scripture from Matthew 13, Jesus uses the parable of the yeast to teach us how just a small amount of yeast can permeate an entire batch of dough. In the first reading of that parable, I can interpret that as the power of God’s love for one another can filter out into the community around me. The intent of Jesus’ reference to yeast indicates how just a small amount can make such a major difference in producing the bread: “. . . only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

Having made bread, I can understand how powerful God’s love can be and how important it is for me to use that love towards others in all the various settings I find myself. If I can add a dose of love in the midst of three parts of unloved, then I am living my commission to love one another, share the good news of God’s love, and make new disciples of Christ even if I do not know exactly how or when that love will grow.

Yet, at the same time, Paul’s use of the yeast can also demonstrate the powerful negative effect bad yeast can have. In his letter to the Corinthians, he says, “Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough.”

The young church in Corinth was struggling with maintaining Christian lifestyles in the community. Paul uses the metaphor about bad yeast to answer the concern expressed about someone in that church whose behaviors were not Christ-like. He was warning the church that even small, seemingly insignificant un-Christian practices could infect the others—negative peer pressure.

Many might be surprised to discover Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contains so many specific instructions about living in the community. Many Bible readers think of I Corinthians 13 as the primary message defining love and the context it is so often used—wedding ceremonies. But the first eight chapters of the letter target so many unchristian behaviors.

The early Christians needed encouragement too because the culture was filled with pagan worship rituals. The excess sacrificed meat was sold in the markets and they did not know whether they could eat it or not. The immoral sexual practices associated with pagan worship were everywhere and sometimes caused conflict in the home when one partner was pagan and the other Christian.

Paul’s warnings are as important today as they were in any culture at any time in history or will be in the future. Living in a culture with immoral behaviors and negative peer pressure is the same in today’s world. Even in our small community as well as national community, we see evidence of immoral practices and it saddens us. Yet, are we the good yeast or the bad yeast?

We must be the good yeast and knead it into our community to spread that positive influence around. Reading Paul’s letters provides us additional encouragement and assurance that we can resist peer pressure and we can be good yeast not bad yeast.

We are to love one another without judging. We are to do all the good that we can without any expectations or limitations. We are to support the good others do rather than be jealous or suspicious. We are to work as a team to defend others and us from the bad dough that can destroy our community. We must stand up to peer pressure that destroys and promote peer pressure that builds our community in Christian love.

Closing prayer

Dear Loving God,

We wake every morning to chaos

In our world, community and lives.

And all too often cave in to peer pressure

Because it is seems easier.

 

Guide us to be the good yeast

That spreads throughout the chaos

Making a change for the better

Because that is what you ask.

 

Give us the strength

To work together in unity

Spreading the good news

And leading others to Christ.

 

In your name,

And your son Jesus Christ,

And with the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Revelations reveal secrets and builds hope

given on Sunday, November 1, 2015

Scripture base: Revelations 21:10-21 & Revelations 7:9-17 (NLT)

I admit I have Royal Fever. The excitement with the World Series makes it very difficult to admit that November is here. The weather must be confused, too, with all the delightful weather we have had and forecast for the week ahead.

Of course the biggest problem is that Royal Fever tends to distract a person, so I admit to another issue—preparing today’s worship service. Today is All Saints Day. The temptation is to connect the two but that might be a real stretch. Yet, there is one image that can—the concept of Kingdom.

Witnessing the transformation of Kansas City into a Royal Kingdom with blue fountains, blue lights, and the Royal logos everywhere creates a visual image and a unity that is creating a kingdom filled with new life.

Reading Revelations can be intimidating, but today’s two selections create visual images that help us anticipate the new life promised for those who accept Christ in our lives. The heavenly kingdom shared in Revelations 21 builds a mental picture of breathtaking beauty:

11 It shone with the glory of God and sparkled like a precious stone—like jasper as clear as crystal.

And the description goes on listing precious stones: jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, amethyst and even pearls.

Granted the Royal Kingdom is colored by all the blue sapphires, diamonds, and pearls one could imagine, and it has transformed our world. Does the description of God’s heavenly kingdom create a sense of excitement and anticipation for you?

On this All Saints Day, the picture created in Revelations captures my attention. I cannot imagine the visual glory that will greet us as we enter into God’s kingdom, but the words in Revelations 21 gives me renewed conviction that God’s promise of eternal life is real.

Just in the past year, we have witnessed losses in our community as well as in the national and international communities.  Those who have died took a little light away from our community, but the promise of Revelation’s words provides each of us hope. Not only hope for our own eternal life, but also hope to reconnect with those who have already moved to God’s eternal kingdom.

All Saints Day provides an opportunity to review the list of those who have moved away from our world and on to the heavenly world. We know those who have gone, and we know the promise God has made for all Christians. We use Communion to review and to reaffirm our own covenant as Christians.

In the scripture from Revelations 7, there are echoes of Christ’s story in these words that we share during the liturgy of communion:

13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?”

14 And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”

Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in[a] the great tribulation.[b] They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.

The words remind us that accepting God’s gift of his son and his death for our sins, we are purified. Remember the promise in John 3:16:

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (KJV)

or

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (NRSV)

or

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

or

16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave[a] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (NLT)

Powerful words. A guarantee. A home run—no a grand slam.

Today, All Saints Day, we hear the promise and we can imagine heaven through the words in Revelations. And, remembering all those who have guided us in this earthly world, we hear the promise of joining those already in God’s heavenly kingdom:

15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
will give them shelter.
16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
God’s kingdom is a kingdom free of all the tribulations of our earthly life. The decision to believe in God and to accept his greatest gift of his son will turn our earthly tribulation-filled life into an eternal life may not be easy, but believe. The saints in our lives know and the secret is revealed in the words of Revelation:

17 For the Lamb on the throne[c]
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”

Revelations reveals the secret to eternal life and provides us hope. All Saints Day and celebrating the sacrament of communion provides the perfect diamond for a winning season. Each of us is a royal witness to God’s kingdom. Share the story, live the story, and receive the crown.

Closing prayer

Dear God,

You manage our lives in ways we do not see.

The saints in our lives have coached us

By modeling the one rule that guarantees

A winning season in our earthly world:

Love one another as you want to be loved.

May we share in the meal of champions,

The bread and the wine of the Lord’s table.

Let them be for us the blood and the body of Christ.

Purify us so we may be winning Christians

Teaming with love for one another.

Thank you for all the grace you provide,

For all the opportunities to serve one another,

And for all the forgiveness when we err.

May scripture strengthen us in our tribulations.

May the legends in our lives be saints at your table.

May the promise of life eternal fuel for our game.

Grant us peace as we share in the cup and the bread.

Fill us with energy as we continue in life’s journey.

Keep hope alive as we hear your word.

And forgive us when we stumble.

We thrill with the promise of life eternal

As we join together at your holy table. –Amen.

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World Communion Sunday

Sunday, October 4:

The following selections were used as part of United Methodist’s long liturgical service of Word and Table.

Scripture Lesson:            Psalm 25 (lectionary) –NLT

Declare me innocent, O Lord,
for I have acted with integrity;
I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me.
Test my motives and my heart.
For I am always aware of your unfailing love,
and I have lived according to your truth.
I do not spend time with liars
or go along with hypocrites.
I hate the gatherings of those who do evil,
and I refuse to join in with the wicked.
I wash my hands to declare my innocence.
I come to your altar, O Lord,
singing a song of thanksgiving
and telling of all your wonders.

I love your sanctuary, Lord,
the place where your glorious presence dwells.

Don’t let me suffer the fate of sinners.
Don’t condemn me along with murderers.
10 Their hands are dirty with evil schemes,
and they constantly take bribes.
11 But I am not like that; I live with integrity.
So redeem me and show me mercy.
12 Now I stand on solid ground,
and I will publicly praise the Lord.

Response to the Word/Reflection:

Participating in Communion today connects all Christians here, there, and everywhere. Today, no denomination can claim ownership of this sacrament. Today, communion brings all Christians to be one in all.

In the Apostles’ Creed, the use of the term ‘catholic’ does not mean that the Catholic denomination, it means the entire or universal church. It is a word that means all Christians who worship are of one church, God’s church.

Reading through Pope Francis’ address to Congress, the audience he tries to reach is American, but he expands it to all individuals. He refers to a ‘catholic’ society, a unified society trying to exist in a global community. He by-passes the boundaries that define the various countries, he appeals to humans who are seek peace and justice for all individuals.

Pope Francis referenced four Americans for four different qualities. He chose Abraham Lincoln for his efforts to defend liberty. Martin Luther King was referenced as he keeps the ‘dreams’ for all humans.

Two others are not as well known, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. Day was known for her efforts to achieve social justice and the rights of persons. Merton was a Cistercian monk who a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

A primary theme of the Pope’s address to the Americans via Congress can and was summarized by one rule, the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Mt 7:12). He said,

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

The Golden Rule is the New Covenant. All laws need to be tested by the filter of the Golden Rule. Pope Francis talked about other issues, but he put theology into action by speaking out on each topic and showing how the Golden Rule puts theology into action which protects liberty, creates and encourages dreams, fights social injustice, and promotes peace between one another.

Therefore, today as the Christian world join in communion, let us join in the Apostles’ Creed knowing that this statement of faith unites us and with the Golden Rule we are equipped to live as Christians and to lead others to Christ, too. These are the tools of our faith; they are the foundation of our faith; and we can put our theology into action here, thee, and everywhere.

Scripture lesson: Hebrews 2:5-13 (lectionary) 14-18 (added emphasis) –NLT

And furthermore, it is not angels who will control the future world we are talking about. For in one place the Scriptures say,

“What are mere mortals that you should think about them,
or a son of man[a] that you should care for him?
Yet you made them only a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.[b]
You gave them authority over all things.”[c]

Now when it says “all things,” it means nothing is left out. But we have not yet seen all things put under their authority. What we do see is Jesus, who was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.”

Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone. 10 God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

11 So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters.[d] 12 For he said to God,

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.
I will praise you among your assembled people.”[e]

13 He also said,

“I will put my trust in him,”
that is, “I and the children God has given me.”[f]

14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had[g] the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters,[h] so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.

 

Response to the word/Reflection: 

 

            Do not be afraid to put what you believe into action. God loves each one of us. He loves us so much that he decided to walk along side of us as a man known as Jesus Christ. He gave us one golden rule by which to live. And he died for us. His death we remember today–here, there and everywhere.

Pope Francis radiates love of this earth and all that is in it. When the news reporters noticed the change in his face as he reached out to the peoples, he witnessed theology in action. Christians around this world know the wonder witnessed on the Pope’s face as God’s love.

Each one of us can share our theology, our love of God, every day. We simply must love one another as we want to be loved and we must do all we can do for all we can in any way we can. God grants us grace, so we must offer grace to others, too.

Today we thank God for his creation, for his grace, for his love, and for the gift of his son. Communion reconnects us to God, it reaffirms our faith, it shares the hope we have for salvation, and it fuels us with love. Communion is theology in action.

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Theological virtue #2: Hope. Dare to Hope

given on Sunday, September 13, 2015:

            Lamentations. The word alone can set a tone of sadness and futility. The Old Testament book is one of a set written by Jeremiah; the first being the book of Jeremiah itself. One book gives the history of Jeremiah’s country—Judah, the people and the destruction of Jerusalem. The second book is the eulogy or lament.

Reading through history books, each factual chapter could be followed by a lament of its own. Right now our personal history is being written and history books will record the facts—violence, hate crimes, natural disasters, political chaos, greed, and more, I am sure. The historians will try to keep the analysis to the facts, but the lament will shadow the words.

Why? Why do humans continue to be mean, greedy, and downright hateful? How can such dismal behavior continue when God already sent Jesus and changed the law to such a simple premise: Love one another?

Jeremiah cried out in the book of Lamentations. The first two chapters are a record of all the bad that had happened, but it is the third chapter that issues the challenge: Dare to hope.

This week the anniversary of America’s terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York City serves as a reminder that bad things do happen even to good people, as the cliché states. The thousands who died fourteen years ago left gaping holes in families and communities. Yet, one word can reflect an outcome that carries all the promise of a bright future despite all the destruction—HOPE!

Hope, the second of three theological virtues, a habit builds on the first virtue of faith. Faith establishes a relationship with God. Accepting God and his gift of grace, sets our life journey in the direction of eternal life. The faith-directed journey is fueled by hope.

Life is going to be challenging. Even if we do not cause the problem ourselves, the forces of nature and the decisions of others will deal us difficulties. At times, we will feel totally alone, even from God. The trials of our earthly life do shake confidence, tear at our hearts due to the loss of family or friend, or challenge our ethics even at the work place. But God never leaves us and that faith-based relationship provides life-sustaining hope.

Think about what qualities hope provides our lives: happiness, optimism, promise, and enthusiasm. Certainly a list of other qualities could be included, but hope changes the quality of our lives even in the absolute worst times. Hope keeps us God-centered. Hope fuels us in our lives and demonstrates to others how faith works in good times and in bad times.

Dare to hope! The scriptures tell us that, faithful Christians have modeled it, and it is our responsibility to live it. God is always with us. Our task is to maintain and deepen the relationship with God. How to hope begins with Lamentations 3:40: Let us examine our ways and test them and let us return to the Lord.

Examine our ways: consider how we live our lives. Are we living our Christian lifestyle as God would want us to live it? Are we keeping our work ethics? Do we love our neighbors as we want to be loved? Can we avoid gossip?

Test our way of living and see if it is working or if it is failing. What we say we do must show in the outcome. Are we honestly giving our best effort at work? Do we care for our bodies and our world as we should? Do we complain but do nothing to change the problem? Do we work to maintain our relationship with God?

Wandering away from the Lord is very easy in a world filled with evil. Staying in a strong relationship with family and friends is no easy task. To maintain the relationship with God, we need scripture study, we need worship with our Christian community, and we need to serve. The result is a wonderful journey filled with happiness, optimism, positivity, and enthusiasm—HOPE.

Date to hope. Life filled with hope will lessen the sting of life challenges. Hope will shine through you to others who are seeking a happy, optimistic, positive and enthusiastic life. Others will see God shining through your eyes and know that hope is fueling your journey. Dare to hope, dare to have faith in God, dare others to learn about faith and hope.   The result will be a world-filled with love.

Closing prayer

Dear God of Glory,

Life challenges us daily making us weak and drained.

Thank you for staying right beside us.

Even when we believe, we make mistakes.

Guide us in examining our ways of living

as we strengthen our relationship with you.

Help us test our ways of living our faith out loud

so hope fills our journey to life everlasting.

We dare to hope, to strengthen our faith,

and to love one another.

May our faith-filled lives, fueled with hope,

invite others to join your Christian family.–Amen, Lord, amen.

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Theology Virtue #1: Faith. It Defines Us.

given on Sunday, September 6, 2015

Scripture base: James 2:14-20, NLT

Faith without Good Deeds Is Dead

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God.[n] Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

Reflection:

Welcome home! Labor Day weekend brings families back together for one last summer blowout. Locally a fair has dominated this holiday weekend for 68 years. The wild time in the small town (this year’s theme) is representative of the history for the families and friends of the community.

The weekend is a showcase for the talents and gifts of the many generations that grew up on the farms around this little town. The school lets out early. The arena is busy with horse shows, queen contests and feature events. There is laughter, storytelling, friendly greetings, and kids squealing with excitement.

Home is where we learn who we are. We try out various behaviors during our school years, along the streets and country roads of the community. We develop our personality, our practices, and our habits.

The close knit community shapes our lives in a range of ways, and the churches typically are an integral part of that heritage. The social world has changed, but the values and the practices many families develop traditionally include the church.

The New Testament book of James reads like a textbook for Christian living. The focus in the first two chapters is faith, but continuing with the reading, two other qualities are identified: hope and love.

Faith, hope and love are virtues that separate Christians from non-Christians. Using the lectionary commentary, virtue is a Greek term meaning “habit” or “a lasting attitude that defines a person.” Faith, hope and love are defined as “theological virtues.” These virtues are the foundations of a Christian lifestyle.

In the reading from James, faith is connected to good deeds. Yet, good deeds come second or as a result of faith. Explaining faith is tough because it is one of those intangible concepts. There is no visible way to prove or disprove the very source of one’s faith.

Faith is trust in or knowledge about God even though we do not have concrete evidence. Faith in God is like knowing that there is a sun that will shine each and every day regardless of whether there are clear skies or cloudy ones.

Faith is a habit the opens the relationship between God and us. Faith begins with a conscious awareness that there is a God and we are his children. Faith supports our understanding of the scriptures that tell the story of relationships between God and his children over and over again.

James moves the fundamental relationship between God and us and shows us how to demonstrate that faith in our own lives. He emphasizes the good deeds we do is evidence of our faith. The relationship we have with God leads us to do good deeds. James writes:

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

James was Jesus’ brother. Understandably, James and Jesus had a brotherly relationship, but even that relationship had to expand as James witnessed the ministry of Jesus. A brotherly relationship had to develop into a personal relationship with God.

The letter James writes takes the words Jesus’ teachings and develops them into action—good deeds. A relationship that is a verbal statement is not a relationship with meaning. God teaches us that we are to demonstrate that relationship with God through good deeds.

Going back to the Old Testament stories, James supports the argument that good deeds puts faith into action. He points out the absolute trust that Abraham places in God when he takes his son Isaac to be sacrificed. That faith in God took Abraham to the very last moment of sacrificing his son—the altar built, the child secured, and the knife in hand.

He then adds the story of the prostitute Rahab whose faith in God was secure enough to protect the spies as they tried to reclaim Jerico, a city of Israelites, from its captors. Her good deeds saved her and her family from the city’s destruction.

Do we have stories of faith now that continue to show how faith works? Certainly. In our own lifetimes, we have studied history and know that faith in God has saved many from death. We see friends and family members live out their faith by the good deeds they do.

Faith in God creates a trusting relationship that deepens with each good deed.   As young people watch parents and adults, they begin to develop the faith they witness. Going to church and saying one is Christian may be outward signs that a person is in a relationship with God, but true faith is seen in the good deeds that person does day in and day out.

Maintaining a relationship with God is faith. Living that faith is done with good deeds. Reading James, we can learn how to live our faith openly. We do not have to tell everybody that we have faith in God because the good deeds will prove our relationship with God is real.

Closing prayer

Dear Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Thank you for the words of James.

What a gift his letter is for us still today.

Let us take the words and put them into action.

Guide us in learning to do good for one another

In a challenging world that holds us captive.

Help us hear the cries of your children in need

So that we can show how much you love them

Through the good deeds we can do.

Thank you, too, for all your children in our community

Who demonstrate faith daily with good deeds.

May we continue to develop our own faith

Living it out loud by the good deeds we do, too.

Amen.

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Why Celebrate Faith Holidays?

given on Sunday, March 29, 2015: Palm or Passion Sunday

While reading the lectionary this week and considering the question of why do we call the Sunday before Easter “Palm Sunday,” I ran across this statement: “Holidays can be important today, too, as annual reminders of what God has done for us.” (Life Application Bible, NIV, p. 121) Just ponder that for a moment . . . That statement was connected to the reading from Exodus, in the Old not the New Testament.

In today’s American culture, we get so wrapped up in the stores’ various holiday displays. We groan when the seasons are hurried along by the retailers putting out the next holiday’s unique trappings weeks even months ahead of time. Yet we also are wooed by the appealing displays that trigger our impulse buying the moment we see it. Buying decisions become whimsical rather than planned.

What does this have to do with today? Today is Palm Sunday. Why is it important? Palm Sunday begins Holy Week. This was the beginning day of the Jewish Passover and the tradition was for families to make a journey to Jerusalem for a huge festival. The city was bubbling over with people, the vendors were out, especially around the temple, palm branches were waving much like Americans wave flags during parades, competitions, and so on.

Passover was the Jewish people’s Fourth of July. God had protected them and they had been freed from the Egyptian captivity. They had been slaves and now they were free. There was a reason to celebrate and the events during Passover were as traditional to the Jewish people as the fireworks, apple pie, hot dogs, hamburgers, parades, and festivals are to Americans over the Fourth of July weekend.

The study note states holidays are important in the remembrance of what God has done for us and the note continues with a directive:

“. . . Develop traditions in your family to highlight the religious significance of certain holidays. These serve as reminders to the older people and learning experiences for the younger ones.” (Ibid)

As a church family, the emphasis we place on the various Christian holidays serve as teaching tools. We remember, yes, but more importantly we teach.

All of us have family traditions that we maintain. The tradition might be a daily one like sitting down for a family meal that we begin with a table blessing. Some traditions may not be centered on Christian living, but the tradition probably has a major significance for the family. Maybe the tradition is centered on a child’s birth or an engagement or possibly a traditional bridal shower. The tradition adds significance and value to life transitions—and family tales told later on.

The story of Passover begins in the Old Testament, Exodus 12:1-10 in the lectionary. Reading through the scripture reconnects us to an ancient, pre-Christian event that was so important it has been preserved even today in the Jewish tradition but also connected to the Christian tradition.

The Exodus scripture carefully explains how the Jewish people were to prepare for their escape. It begins with very detailed instructions on preparing a meal, even how to dress and how to eat the meal. God wanted them prepared with their tummies full for an immediate escape. They had to be ready to run. By reading a few more verses past the preparation, the Passover event is explained:

11 “These are your instructions for eating this meal: Be fully dressed,[a] wear your sandals, and carry your walking stick in your hand. Eat the meal with urgency, for this is the Lord’s Passover. 12 On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn son and firstborn male animal in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the Lord! 13 But the blood on your doorposts will serve as a sign, marking the houses where you are staying. When I see the blood, I will pass over you. This plague of death will not touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.” (NLT)

The Jewish people who followed God’s instructions escaped Egyptian slavery. These are the ancestors of the Christians today who celebrate Easter and the connection is the Passover tradition.

Why do we celebrate Passover, then? The Christian tradition celebrates Passover with a twist because it provided the setting for Christ’s final week and crucifixion in Jerusalem. Remember, Jesus was raised Jewish. The Jewish people following Jesus anticipated him to become a political leader, not the peaceful, quiet image of God today’s Christians now honor as the Messiah, the Savior, the Triune God.

Palm Sunday is the most common word for this particular day, but a second descriptor is Passion Sunday. The connotative meaning of Passion Sunday is a more accurate label in the Christian tradition as we know it. Passion refers to intense emotions, but also is defined as “the suffering and death of Jesus.” (OxfordDictionary.com)

Palm or Passion Sunday is the first day that Jesus’ narrative begins the final week of his life. Palm Sunday clearly connects with the Jewish Passover tradition, and the week continues through Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and ending with Easter Sunday. Christians celebrate the horrible events just as the Jewish followed God’s advice about Passover:

14 “This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord. This is a law for all time. 15 For seven days the bread you eat must be made without yeast. On the first day of the festival, remove every trace of yeast from your homes. Anyone who eats bread made with yeast during the seven days of the festival will be cut off from the community of Israel. 16 On the first day of the festival and again on the seventh day, all the people must observe an official day for holy assembly. No work of any kind may be done on these days except in the preparation of food.

17 “Celebrate this Festival of Unleavened Bread, for it will remind you that I brought your forces out of the land of Egypt on this very day. This festival will be a permanent law for you; celebrate this day from generation to generation. (Exodus 12:14-17)

The structure for Passion Week is based on this directive, but the events of Holy Week for Christians no longer depends of the significance of the Jewish tradition, but on the events that lead to Jesus’ capture, trial, torture, and crucifixion.

God’s plan followed God’s concept of time. Passover occurred around 1410 BC. His words in Exodus began the series of events that indicate a constant monitoring of how his children were living. Throughout the Old Testament, there are warnings, advice, stories, hymns and prayers that included references to future possibilities. The people were to celebrate the Jewish holiday in order to keep the memory alive but also to teach the new generations. For instance, the lectionary included Psalm 31:9-16:

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress.
Tears blur my eyes.
My body and soul are withering away.
10 I am dying from grief;
my years are shortened by sadness.
Sin has drained my strength;
I am wasting away from within.
11 I am scorned by all my enemies
and despised by my neighbors—
even my friends are afraid to come near me.
When they see me on the street,
they run the other way.
12 I am ignored as if I were dead,
as if I were a broken pot.
13 I have heard the many rumors about me,
and I am surrounded by terror.
My enemies conspire against me,
plotting to take my life.

Our understanding of the events we now celebrate echo those lifted up to God by the Jewish people sometime after Passover and maybe even as recently as a thousand years later around 586 BC. Again God’s time is not our perception of time.

Today, we are over 2,000 years past that Jewish Passover that lead to Jesus’ death, so why celebrate a Jewish holiday? We celebrate the Christian Passion or Holy Week beginning today with Palm Sunday. The reason we celebrate the passion, the life and death of Jesus, is to remember God’s gift of his only son so that we might have life eternal. We celebrate this particular Christian holiday to teach the future generations of the passion God has for each of us.

Closing Prayer

Dear Loving God,

You never fail to remember us even at our worst.

You never hand us more than we can handle.

The generations of the faithful have kept the story alive.

The generations celebrate the story to teach the story.

Guide us to celebrate with grace and love.

Guide us to grow in faith so passion lives.

Each day of this holy week, we will pray passionately

Each day of this holiday, we will share the story

With all that we can,

In as many ways that we can,

So others may experience your grace. –Amen

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Wisdom of the Generations

given on Sunday, September 14, 2014–a belated Grandparents’ Day

The Third Generation Crisis:

     Three generations separate today’s elementary students from a culture that centered around church and school. The Baby Boomers remember that culture, but their grandchildren have not experienced that social structure. The emphasis has shifted to a virtual community with influences beyond parental control. This reduces God’s role in our lives and we must act:

  • Stand firm in your Christian faith.
  • Spread God’s message in word and in deeds.
  • Continue modeling Christian behaviors in the family.
  • Talk to your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren about the importance of God in your life.
  • Ask them questions about their relationship with God.
  • Do all that you can to share how God is real in your life.
  • And pray that all may know God in their lives.

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