Archive for the ‘Justice Issues’ Category

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?   

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”Matthew 16:21-28

In the decade of the 20s the nation is controlled by the elite, who in spite of being citizens of the country are in league with foreign powers. These leaders – no matter which house they belong to – betray the interests of the common people, even to the point of giving their tax money to their oppressors. The people protest. Keeping the peace and maintaining order becomes a chronic concern. And the leaders of organized religion, with a few important exceptions, are corrupt; many are in league with the elite who are running the country.

I’m not talking about the 2020s, or even the 1920s. This was the 20s. This was the world Jesus and the disciples lived in.

Humanity has made great technological progress since then, but where it comes to human nature not much has changed.

As it is today, people back then were worried and troubled to the point of taking to the streets. So when Jesus came talking about the Kingdom of God being on its way – this was good news!! God was on the side of the people; and people started to dream of getting rid of the corrupt leadership: the Sadducees, the Herod family, the Roman Empire itself.

And what hope they had! Last week we heard Jesus ask the disciples “who do people say that I am?” and “who do you say that I am?” and Peter answered, “you are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus confirmed this, and called Peter blessed because this had been revealed to him by God.

What a shock it must have been, then, when Jesus immediately began to teach his disciples that he was going to be killed by the religious leadership and come back to life three days later. It didn’t make sense to them. For starters, they missed the ‘come back to life’ bit – that really didn’t make sense. Being killed by the religious establishment was believable, but how could it be? Wasn’t Jesus the Messiah? The Crown Prince of heaven? The Son of the Living God? How could the Son of God die?

And especially on a cross? Crucifixion was familiar to the disciples: it was brutal. It was designed by Rome to dominate and intimidate anyone who wasn’t Roman. Jesus and the disciples grew up seeing streets lined with crosses, seeing people sometimes take days to die. Crucifixion was for the enemies of the Roman state: which made it illegal for the religious leadership of Israel to crucify Jesus; but their game plan was to get Pilate on board, and Pilate was the Roman governor, and that way they could get around the law.


Bust of Pontius Pilate

The disciples couldn’t even begin to imagine this. What they were hearing is their friend Jesus, their teacher, their Lord, talking about dying. And that simply couldn’t happen – could it?

Peter expressed what I think they were all feeling.  He pulled Jesus aside and said, “God forbid! Not you, this can’t happen to you!

Peter is often criticized for being hot-headed and quick with his words, but I think in this case the criticism is unfair. When Peter says “this must never happen to you” I think he means it with the very best of intentions. Peter loves Jesus. Peter loves God. Peter wants to see God’s kingdom come, just as Jesus had taught the disciples to pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” How can this happen if Jesus is dead?

The thing is Peter doesn’t see what God sees, not yet. His feelings for Jesus are very human. Jesus says as much. He says: “you’re setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

As I was thinking about this passage this week, I was reminded how hard it is, even for us today, to hold in our minds the thought of our saviour Jesus being whipped and ridiculed and tortured. We want to say “No no no this is all wrong. This isn’t fair!” Why should the Lord of peace suffer violence? Why should the Messiah who healed so many be broken? From a human standpoint it makes no sense and it’s terrible to imagine.

Jesus responds to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block.” The phrase ‘stumbling block’ is used elsewhere in scripture to describe words or actions that turn people away from their God-given calling.

Jesus knows the road ahead of him. He knows it will be hard. Jesus doesn’t want to die; in fact in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus will pray, “if it’s possible let this cup pass from me.” Peter is tempting Jesus to abandon his role as Saviour; and Jesus loved God and loved us enough to do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.

To be a friend to Jesus in that moment would have been to stand by him, in silence if necessary, letting Jesus talk about what was coming, listening to him, setting him free to be who he was born to be. In this moment though it’s beyond the strength of any mortal. This is one time when Jesus will have to stand alone, because only He can do it. Only Jesus knows, as God knows, that his death will put an end to death; that his kingdom and his crown will be won through his self-sacrifice and his resurrection.

For those of us living in the 2020s Jesus has much to say in this passage: there are three things I want to focus attention on.

First, Jesus invites us – as he invited his disciples back then – to pick up our own crosses and follow him. Jesus says, “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Or to shade the translation slightly differently: “whoever wants to save their life will destroy it, but whoever loses their life for my sake will discover it.” Actions can have unintended results; and how often have we seen people chase after success or power or money in order to make their life safe, only to destroy themselves in the process? Jesus says ‘it is foolish to gain the world and lose one’s own soul’; ‘but in giving away your life you will save it and find it.’

Second, to “take up your cross” is not an invitation to start going around looking for crosses to carry! It’s an invitation to give of oneself sacrificially to and for one’s neighbor. Quoting from James Boyce, Professor Emeritus of Luther Seminary, St. Paul MN:

[The] Messiah did not have to seek the cross; it was [brought] by those to whom his… mission of service gave offense, [and likewise] we are called to the unselfconscious love and care for those in need. Crosses will be provided…” [workingpreacher.org]

Third, it is difficult to meditate on what Jesus suffered. When we do, what we need to remember is Jesus loves us this much. Scripture says “he will see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11). In other words, Jesus will look at you and me and say “it was all worth it”.  He loves us that much.

So to be wise in this decade of the 2020s we begin by knowing nobody loves us like Jesus: not our governors, not our congresspeople, not our elected officials, not any other powers that be, not our employers, not our counselors, not our financial advisors – none of them love us as much as Jesus does. Even our families, much as they love us, love with an imperfect love. Jesus loves us with a self-sacrificing love that gives the very last drop of everything he has in him in order to bring us with him into his kingdom.

In this decade of the 2020s – which has started out so very strangely – Jesus still calls us to follow him. To set aside our own interests, as he did, for the sake of others. To give our lives into Jesus’ hands – to lose our lives for His sake – in order to find them. Because for Jesus – and for us – the cross is not the end. It’s the beginning.

In this decade, as in every decade, we have a choice: between corrupt systems that are passing away, and God’s kingdom that is coming. The easy road leads nowhere; the hard road leads to glory.


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The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away. 

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread.  Jesus said to them, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  They said to one another, “It is because we have brought no bread.” And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.Matthew 16:1-12

There’s an old saying about predicting the weather: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.” In our reading today Jesus says something along these lines to the Pharisees and Sadducees. He says:

“When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’  And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

How true is this still in our own time?

Today’s reading from Matthew centers around two competing parties: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Life in Jesus’ time was different from ours in a lot of ways, but one thing we have in common with the people back then: religious and political differences could get nasty. And the Pharisees and the Sadducees were the two parties to choose from back then. (Actually there was a third party, the Essenes, but they got about as much press in the Bible as our third parties do in the news today.)

Since we find ourselves today being torn apart by party politics, this passage is very relevant to us – and we can learn much from how Jesus handled the situation.

The first thing we notice is that both the Pharisees and the Sadducees missed the point of Jesus’ ministry completely. In fact, opposing Jesus was just about the only thing the two groups agreed on! So they got together and confronted Jesus by demanding that he show them a sign from heaven.

Now Jesus had just spent three days healing people, and feeding over 4000 men (plus women and children) with seven loaves of bread and two fish. What more sign did they want?  Truth is, they really didn’t want to see a sign; they were testing Jesus to see how he would react under pressure.

So what was it that made the Pharisees and Sadducees oppose each other?

It’s complicated.

But like most arguments of this kind, there were a few issues that kept bubbling up to the surface.

For starters, the Sadducees were stuck on the letter of the law. Whatever the issue at hand was, if it wasn’t written down in the books of Moses (that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, or Numbers) – if it wasn’t in one of those five books they didn’t believe it. The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed in an “oral tradition.” In other words, when God gave Moses the law, not everything was written down. God also spoke to Moses, and these words were passed down to the priests and the prophets by word of mouth.

Included in these oral teachings was the concept of the afterlife. The Sadducees did not see anything about life after death in the books of Moses, so they didn’t believe in resurrection. They believed when you died that was it. The Pharisees disagreed.

Jesus, by the way, took the Pharisees’ side on this issue. In a debate with the Sadducees, Jesus quoted the book of Exodus saying:

“Concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what God said to you: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matt 22:31-32)

The other really big difference between the Pharisees and Sadducees was cultural in nature – and these issues are still with us today.  The Sadducees were the “One Percent” of their day. They were the richest, best educated, most powerful people in the country. In a world where there was no ‘separation of church and state’ the Sadducees held both religious and political power. (However unlike the “one percent” of our day, the Sadducees were not business tycoons. There were no Bill Gates-es or Mark Zuckerberg’s back then. Their power was strictly in politics and religion.)

The Pharisees on the other hand, while they tended to be well-educated, tended to also have sort of blue-collar backgrounds. They were smart, and they worked hard, and they studied hard, and they achieved success through real effort. And for these reasons they were popular among the people. But because the Pharisees had an oral tradition of interpreting scripture, and there was more than one oral tradition, their theological debates could get really deep, and could easily veer off-course.

Jesus spoke some of his hardest words against the Pharisees, even though he agreed with them more often than He did the Pharisees. Maybe that’s because the Pharisees’ mistakes were more dangerous. Think of it this way: If something is half-true and half-lie, most people will say, “that just doesn’t sound right.”

But if something is 95% true and 5% lie, people will often swallow the lie along with the truth. (This is the real danger of “fake news”.) The Pharisees got it mostly right most of the time. This is why Jesus said “do what they say but not what they do.” With the Pharisees things could get just a little bit twisted sometimes and end up in a place that God never intended.

One other important difference between the Pharisees and Sadducees: the Sadducees, in spite of the fact that they were closely tied to the temple – you could almost think of them as being like the College of Cardinals in the Vatican (not that they were Catholics – these men were very Jewish!) – but the Sadducees served in the temple in the same way that Cardinals serve in the Vatican. They were officials whose job it was to lead or assist in worship.

In spite of these temple duties, in spite of their close proximity to the things of God, the Sadducees were head over heels in love with Greek philosophy. In Jesus’ day, the teachings of the Epicureans and the Stoics were the ‘in thing’; Socrates and Plato were a few hundred years before, and still had some influence but not as much. Anyway, the Sadducees were far more influenced by Greek philosophers than they were by the scriptures. The Sadducees thought Greek philosophy was the height of sophistication and intellectual achievement. It was classy… brilliant… exclusive… the crème de la crème, befitting the minds and lives of the “one percent”. It didn’t matter to them that Greek philosophy was in no way related to what Moses wrote or what God commanded – and in some ways was opposed to both.

The Pharisees saw the Sadducees’ love of Greek philosophy basically as turning their backs on God’s word. And Jesus and the early disciples – particularly the apostle Paul – tended take the Pharisees’ side on this one.

So in Jesus’ day the Jewish people were being encouraged to divide and attack each other along these party lines – much as we are being encouraged to attack each other today.

Because of this, Jesus’ words to his disciples are as important to us today as they were to the disciples back then. When Jesus has a moment alone with them, he said to the disciples: “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Notice Jesus does not take sides. And he doesn’t waste time sifting through their various arguments. He warns the disciples to stay away from both.

Jesus doesn’t explain the yeast remark, but I suspect it has to do with the possibility that mastering these complex teachings puts a person at risk of puffing up with knowledge the way yeast puffs up bread. At any rate the bottom line is: Beware of it. Steer clear of it.

So a few thoughts on how to do that in our time:

When you’re dealing with modern-day Sadducees – the “one percent”:

  • Be aware that the world’s philosophies may be attractive and may contain some truth, but their source is not God and at some point you’ll probably have to part company with them in order to be true to Jesus.
  • Be aware that anyone who loves church because it’s in a beautiful building – or who loves worship because it is a dramatic presentation that catches the emotions – is completely missing the point. The church is God’s people and worship is how we express our love for God.
  • Be aware that the Sadducees were wrong in thinking this life is all there is. The God of the Old and the New Testaments promises eternal life to all God’s children.

When you’re dealing with modern-day Pharisees:

  • Be aware that centuries-old traditions handed down from generation to generation may be meaningful, but they’re not on the same level as God’s word. And think of all the traditions that have been handed down for hundreds of years that we’re having to fix in our generation: hundreds of years of tradition in which black people and women were not allowed to pray or speak out loud in church. Hundreds of years tradition in which people thought forgiveness only comes through a priest and not directly from Jesus. Hundreds of years of tradition in which people thought that if you’re rich it’s a sign that God likes you, and if you’re poor it’s because you’ve offended God. Hundreds of years of tradition in which people thought all you have to do is believe and you’ll be saved – and it doesn’t matter how you live after that. Beware of traditions that cause harm to God’s people.
  • Watch out for hypocrisy. Do religious teachers practice what they preach? Do they preach peace and then go out and attack people who disagree with them? Do they preach giving but never give themselves? Do they preach sexual purity and then go off and have an affair? Do they preach God as the Creator of the world and then don’t care about the environment? I could go on…

All these things to watch out for cut across party lines: they did in Jesus’ day and they do today. Jesus never fits into anybody’s box, praise God. He’s not supposed to.

Our job, as people who love Jesus, is to listen to him and follow him as best we can.  And wherever the various parties of our day turn away from God’s goodness and the truth of our Lord Jesus, our job, if we can, as we can, is to help steer things back on course.

Our job is to be God’s people, first and always. No apologies and no compromises.


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A week ago today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that our nation’s Dreamers will be allowed to stay awhile longer — that efforts to dismantle the DACA program were attempted illegally.

DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) protects people who came to the United States as dependent children from deportation. It also provides work papers for those who are old enough to legally work.

DACA recipients – or “Dreamers” – have grown up in the U.S., gone to school here, gone to college or learned a trade here, have not broken any laws, and in many cases have served in the military. They are people who embody “the American dream”.

This past week I received the following email from a Christian organization that supports legal immigration. It was written by Liz Dong, a Dreamer, who is head of the organization Voices of Christian Dreamers. Shared with permission.


“Like many people in my situation, I will never forget the day that I first heard about DACA. By the grace of God – and thanks to a lot of advocacy from brave young immigrants who were sharing their personal stories when I was not ready for that myself, not to mention many Christian leaders who were beginning to speak up for immigrants in ways guided by biblical principles – the DACA program was announced eight years and one week ago. I’d recently graduated from Northwestern University, which in itself was a miraculous answer to prayer as an undocumented student from a single-parent family, without a lot of financial resources and ineligible for federal financial aid. But even after graduation, I still could not work lawfully.

“DACA changed that for me: I was able to get a job and contribute, which is precisely what I’d always wanted. It’s allowed me to go on to graduate school, earning my MBA from the University of Chicago, and to work with the Evangelical Immigration Table for many years, mobilizing local churches to advocate.

“Last Thursday was another day I’ll never forget. That morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in such a way that – for the moment at least – DACA remains in place, despite administrative efforts to terminate it. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude – first and foremost to God, but also to you and others who have advocated with and for me and the many other Dreamers within your congregations and communities.

“I’d ask you now to keep praying and keep advocating – because while the decision is a huge relief, it’s not the end of the story. The majority of the Supreme Court found that the administration’s process for terminating DACA was unlawful, but not that they (or a future administration) could not terminate DACA by a more appropriate process. The only way for Dreamers to become citizens of this country, which a great many of us are eager to do, would be for Congress to pass permanent legislation.

“So, thank you for praying. Please don’t stop.

“Thank you for advocating. Please don’t stop. You can start by adding your name to this letter to Members of Congress, and by asking those you know (at your church, via email, on social media, etc.) to add their names as well.”

In Christ,

Liz Dong

Founder, Voices of Christian Dreamers

P.S. Dreamers like me are thankful after last week’s decision, but that’s not new. This video is our tribute to some of the people for whom we’re thankful, who have helped us along the way!

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Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.Matthew 15:21-28


The story we hear about in Matthew’s gospel today is a strange one. It’s also troubling. It leaves us with a lot of questions, especially the question: did Jesus really call this woman a dog?!?

But let’s start at the beginning.

Matthew says “Jesus left that place” – so we’re not at the beginning of the story, and we need to back up and figure out where we are. Last week Jesus was in Gennesaret, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. He had just had a confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees about what it means to be ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’.

In today’s reading, Jesus has left there and traveled to the region of Tyre and Sidon. This is important information. It tells us Jesus and the disciples walked 50-70 miles, either over a mountain range or around it; they have left the region of Galilee, and in fact have left Israel, and they are now in Gentile territory. Tyre and Sidon are a pair of busy seaport towns on the Mediterranean coast, where Jesus is trying to travel incognito. He wants to keep his whereabouts a secret, and as far as we can tell, he succeeded…

…until this woman arrived. And she Would.Not.Shut.Up.  She followed Jesus around shouting “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David…” and asking for help for her daughter. She made noise. She persisted. And she was annoying the heck out of the disciples, who came to Jesus and said, “please send her away, she keeps following us around!”

Jesus, meanwhile, is ignoring the whole situation – which is very unlike him. It’s almost as if Jesus took this trip into Gentile territory for a mini-vacation and he’s sworn off work for a few days. He’s taking a break from the constant demands for healings and miracles and verbal sparring matches with religious authorities. Even Jesus needed a few days off now and then: he was as human as we are, as well as being the Son of God. So was this trip into Gentile territory meant to be a long weekend away?

Or was it that God sent Jesus there specifically to meet this woman? That’s possible too. Jesus had been confronted with a lot of people lacking faith the past few days. Maybe the Father knew his Son needed some time with someone who really believed in Him.

We don’t know for sure. What we do know is that this woman was (a) a foreigner, from a country that Israel was not particularly friendly with; (b) a Gentile, not Jewish, and therefore (one would assume) of a different religion; (c) had a daughter who was in serious trouble; and (d) most importantly, knew who Jesus was. In fact she understood who Jesus was even better than the disciples did at this point!  Listen to her words. She says to Jesus: “Have mercy on me Lord” – literally kyrie eleison in Greek (some of you raised in certain church traditions may recognize those words).

Then she calls Jesus Son of David” – the name given in Old Testament prophecies to the one who would be the Messiah, the King of Kings. How did this woman, a foreigner and a Gentile, know to call Jesus this? How did she, born and raised in a nation of unbelievers, have greater faith than people who had been raised to keep an eye out for the Messiah? She must have been listening very carefully to the stories coming out of Israel about this man.

She also becomes proof of what Jesus said to the Pharisees in earlier verses: “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth” because what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart. By Jesus’ standards, this woman’s heart was far closer to God than the hearts of the scribes and the Pharisees.

We also notice this woman is not coming to ask Jesus for favors for herself. Her plea is for her daughter, who is suffering greatly from demonic attacks. The Bible gives no further detail on what precisely that meant; only that her daughter was in bad shape. And what mother would not put everything on the line for the sake of her child?  That’s exactly what this lady does.

Jesus’ first reply is a hard word: he says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

There is an element of truth in these words: Jesus’ mission was to the people of Israel. The Messiah was to be the redeemer of Israel. It would be up to his disciples – including us – to carry Jesus’ message to the rest of the world.


But that didn’t mean Jesus had no dealings with non-Jews. So she ignores his answer and presses on. She kneels in front of him – prostrating herself as one would before a great king or a Caesar, and says simply, “Lord help me.”

Jesus’ reply is condescending at best, and there’s really no other way to interpret it. He says:

“It is not proper to take the children’s food and throw it to little dogs.”

I suspect – and this suspicion is shared by some religious scholars, particularly those who come from minority backgrounds – I suspect that Jesus is speaking not so much his own opinion as he is reflecting prejudices of his day. As one Bible scholar puts it, “We see ourselves mirrored in Jesus’ attitude, but not our best selves.” Jesus speaks this opinion for a moment so that he – or in this case, she – can comment on it.

The answer the woman gives shows the depth and richness of her faith. She says: “Yes Lord; yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Her words (1) acknowledge that Jesus is the Master; (2) point out that her request is a tiny crumb of a thing compared to the greatness of Jesus’ power; and (3) that even if she can’t claim the rights of a child she can at least claim the rights of a family pet. She knows Jesus will say ‘yes’. She knows, somehow, that her prayer is already in the process of being answered…

…which Jesus confirms by saying, “Woman, how great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Imagine how refreshing this conversation must have been for Jesus, especially after all the hassles of dealing with the Pharisees! And what a wonderful thing to come to a foreign country and find oneself refreshed by the faith of a foreigner. As Proverbs 25:25 says: “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a foreign land.”

For us, hearing this story 2000 years later, what can we take from this passage? Four things I want to draw attention to today.

  1. As we read Scripture, remember who we are. All of us have been adopted into God’s family. All of us should equally, in the words of one seminary professor, “take our places on our knees… shoulder to shoulder with this woman; side by side with all the outcasts, the wounded, the hungry, the lonely, the homeless.” The vast majority of us everyday believers around the world have more in common with this woman than we do with the disciples.
  2. This woman was from Syria — a country that has been in the news in the past few years because of a civil war there and the millions of refugees who have fled for their lives. With a few exceptions, the nations of the world have responded to this crisis of hunger and homelessness by closing their borders and saying essentially “we can’t take what belongs to the children of our own people and give it to Syrian dogs”. Consider how Jesus makes an example of this kind of thinking, and how the faith of the Syrian woman overcomes it.
  3. This woman shows us how to have great faith – faith that trusts Jesus, and knows Jesus for who he is, and knows that Jesus will always do right. This faith is available to anyone, no matter who you are or where you’ve been.
  4. Don’t give up on prayer. If at first it seems like God isn’t listening, keep asking, keep asking. Jesus is the King of Heaven: his abilities and his mercies are so great that healing a child’s illness is just crumbs under his table. So keep on keeping on with prayer – because our God is a God who delights in mercy. AMEN





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Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.”  He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” – Matthew 15:1-20


Today’s reading from the book of Matthew begins with the word “Then…” – which means we’re starting in the middle of the story. It begs the question, ‘what happened before then?’

What happened before then was Jesus was having a very rough week. A few days earlier, John the Baptist’s disciples came to Jesus and told him that his cousin had just been murdered by King Herod. John the Baptist was beheaded, and his head was presented to Herod’s stepdaughter as a gift in exchange for her dancing for his dinner guests.

When Jesus heard this news he wanted to be alone for a while. He needed time with his Father God. I think all of us can relate to this: there are times when the world is just too much and we need to be alone with God.  I think that’s why the song In the Garden means so much to so many people: it captures the feeling of being alone with God.

So Jesus got in a boat and went away from the crowds, towards a lonely wilderness on the other side of the lake. But the crowds followed Jesus on foot, skirting the shore of the sea of Galilee, so that when Jesus got to the far shore they were waiting for him. And Jesus looked at them, and he had compassion on them, and healed the sick. And then, because they were in the middle of nowhere and getting hungry, Jesus and the disciples collected up five loaves and two fish, and Jesus blessed the food, and Matthew says they fed at least 5000 men, not counting women and children.

When they’d all had enough to eat, Jesus blessed the crowd and sent them home, and told the disciples to get in the boat and leave Jesus there so he could be alone to pray. Jesus finally got that alone-time with his Father.

After night-fall, Jesus walked across the water and joined the disciples in the boat – which is a whole other story – and the next day they landed at Gennesaret, where Jesus was soon recognized and more sick people were brought to him for healing.

All these things happened in a span of just a few days! And in spite of everything, Jesus was still on his feet, still ministering, and still loving people in the name of God the Father. Then…

Then the Pharisees came, with the scribes. Side note on these two groups of people: In spite of what we read in Scripture, the Pharisees were actually popular in the day. They were the peoples’ pastors. They opposed the Sadducees, who were the elite, the “one percent” of their day, and many of the Pharisees’ teachings became the foundation of modern-day Judaism. The reason we tend to see Pharisees in a negative light is because Jesus often took them to task for being legalistic and for being hypocritical… and as we read in the Gospels, Jesus was right. But this wasn’t true of all the Pharisees all the time; some of them actually ended up becoming Christian believers.

The Scribes were essentially lawyers who specialized in the Law of Moses – that is, they specialized in the Ten Commandments and all that’s written in the first five books of the Bible. Back in those days there was no separation between church and state, so these experts in religious law could also draft contracts and give legal advice.

So the Scribes and Pharisees, Matthew tells us, arrived in Gennesaret from Jerusalem. They walked approximately 75 miles just to ask Jesus a question. And the question they asked sounds like something a nasty person would have written on Jesus’ Facebook page. They asked:

“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.”

They walked 75 miles to ask this?

In the Greek it’s clear the Pharisees are accusing the disciples of transgression. They’re referring to a religious tradition, handed down for generations, that all decent Jewish people wash their hands before eating bread. This is not hand-washing as we think of it, to remove dirt and germs. This is a brief religious ceremony requiring clean water and a silver cup and a short ritual of words and motions. It would have been impossible for those 5000 men, women and children Jesus had just fed, to come up with enough silver cups and clean water for everyone to wash their hands. And the Pharisees (as they so often did in scripture) completely missed the miracle and fixated on obedience to the letter of the law – or in this case, the letter of the tradition.

Two things I want to draw attention to here:

(1) the disciples were accused of breaking religious tradition. And it was true – they had. I want to ask this: have any of us ever broken a church tradition? I know I have. One Sunday shortly after being ordained I wore the wrong color stole – I wore a purple one when I should have worn a pink one. Priests are supposed to know better! But if you ever trip over a tradition like that, trust me, You.Will.Hear.About.It.  In my case, I didn’t hear about it from the people but from the other priests.


We all had a good laugh about it. But how many people, I wonder, have been put off by the church because they’ve been attacked for something silly like this? Or how many won’t go into a church because they don’t know how to ‘do church’? They say to themselves: “I don’t know how to pray. And when do I sit, stand, or kneel?” So I put this question to all of us: How can we make our churches welcoming and easy to get to know? How can we keep tradition in its place and not let it be a hindrance to people who are seeking God?

(2) The Pharisees are keeping the letter of the law – well, the letter of the tradition – but they’re completely missing the spirit of it. The point is to be clean before God. Washing hands doesn’t accomplish that.

By the way, Jesus never taught his disciples not to wash their hands. (And neither would I in this pandemic time – keep on washing your hands!)

But the Pharisees are accusing Jesus of allowing his disciples to break religious tradition. Jesus doesn’t answer this. He doesn’t waste time trying to help the Pharisees understand where he’s coming from. Instead, Jesus answers by saying the Pharisees commit greater transgressions – they transgress God’s commands – with their traditions.

And Jesus gives an example. He says: One of the Ten Commandments says “honor your father and your mother”. But the tradition of the Pharisees and scribes says that a child can say to an aging parent “any help you might have had from me is given to God” – that is, given to the temple or the synagogue – and then that person need not take care of their father or mother. Honoring one’s parents in the Old Testament began with providing for their physical needs and went from there. So Jesus says: “you revoke the word of God for the sake of your human tradition.”

Jesus then turns to the crowd and says:

hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of it.”

The disciples pull Jesus aside and say, “do you know the Pharisees were scandalized by what you said?” And Jesus answers, “every plant my father has not planted will be uprooted.” This echoes the passage we read last week, the parable of the wheat and the weeds – that pictures God as a farmer who plants good seed, and then an enemy comes along and plants weed seeds. And they grow up together for now so that the good plants don’t get pulled up with the weeds. But – as Jesus says – every plant the Father has not planted will be uprooted.

Jesus says: Let them go. Give it up. They are blind guides; and if the blind lead the blind they will both fall into a pit. This is a hard word from Jesus. He’s basically saying, “Don’t even try with them.” How sad is that, when Jesus says about somebody, ‘don’t even try’?

Peter says “Lord I don’t understand” – which is a great prayer to pray when you’re feeling confused. So Jesus explains: what goes into one’s mouth enters the stomach, passes through the intestines, and is dropped into the latrine. (That’s literally what the Greek says.) But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and that’s what defiles a person, because out of the mouth comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false testimony, blasphemy and abusive language.

You’ll notice Jesus doesn’t rank these sins. He says all of them equally begin with evil thoughts, or as the Greek says, in the inner dialogue we have within ourselves. The things we say to ourselves when we’re alone with our own thoughts – that’s where all sins begin.

So two things I’d like to take from this passage today:

  1. Let’s pray – for ourselves and for others – that God will cleanse our hearts and sweeten our words. That God would make what comes out of our mouths worth being heard, helpful to others, kind, loving, and just. Pray for that.
  2. Remembering the Pharisees – and how their hypocrisy often made God’s people feel like they didn’t belong in the synagogue – for those of us who are still in the church, let’s give some thought to the questions: what traditions do we have that might invalidate a command of God? What doctrines do our churches teach that are man-made and not God-made? For example, does the church’s tradition of holding up marriage and children as the Christian ideal have the effect of minimizing the involvement of single people? Divorced people? Widows and widowers? Does it make childless people feel like second-class citizens in God’s kingdom? That’s just one example of how a church tradition might get out of hand.  And where it comes to doctrines – nowhere in the Bible does it say Lent must be purple and Pentecost must be red. That’s all human-made. Having the “wrong color” is not a sin.

That’s just for starters. As Jesus says, the real issue is in the heart. Our work on our hearts will be life-long, but thank God we don’t have to do the work by ourselves. We have a Father who loves us, we have Jesus who died for us, and we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. And we have Christian brothers and sisters to help. So let’s ask the tough questions, and welcome the outsider, in the name of our Lord Jesus. AMEN.


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“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.  When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

“He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.”  (Matthew 12:1-14)

Jesus Heals

Jesus heals on the Sabbath

This Sunday we continue our series on the Sabbath. So far in the series we’ve looked at the Old Testament: we’ve seen how God introduced the idea of the Sabbath – the seventh day of the week, being a day of rest – in the opening chapters of Genesis. We’ve seen how God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt and gave the Ten Commandments, the third of which was “to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” God explains that on the Sabbath no work is to be done, wherever God’s people live, and this includes children, employees, animals, and people from foreign lands. Everybody gets a day of rest every seven days. The Sabbath became for them the foundation of fairness and equality and justice in their society, as well as a time to enjoy God’s gifts.

We’ve also seen how quickly Israel fell away from keeping the Sabbath. People became impatient to make money, and they complained, “when will the Sabbath be over?” All through the Old Testament the prophets plead with the people. They warn the people if they don’t put God first, and stop oppressing workers and foreigners and anybody else they can take advantage of, God would deal with the nation.

The people didn’t listen, and they ended up in exile in the land of Babylon for seventy years. After seventy years God brought them home; but things were never really the same again. And because of the experience of the exile, keeping the Sabbath became something the people did out of fear instead of love for God.  The religious leaders made long lists of rules – things people could and could not do on the Sabbath. For example a person could only walk so far on the Sabbath day, about half a mile. People weren’t allowed to cook on the Sabbath. It was against the law to start a fire on the Sabbath. It was forbidden to buy or sell, or to carry things, or build things, or make things.

In fact the rabbis identified 39 categories of forbidden activities, with dozens of rules under each category. For some people it became like a game of “what can we get away with on the Sabbath?” but for most people it was “do what they tell you and stay out of trouble.” Either way it robbed the people of the pleasure of being with God and enjoying God’s gifts. The Sabbath – the foundation on which their social justice was built – had become a foundation for injustice.

It’s like Jesus said in Matthew chapter 23:

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” (Matt 23:2-4)

So by the time Jesus begins his ministry, the Sabbath had become a burden almost too great to bear. The joy had been lost. And this is where we pick up the story in the scriptures this morning.

As I looked at the Gospels this week, I noticed there are only two types of scenarios in which the Sabbath is mentioned: (1) at Jesus’ crucifixion, because it took place just before the Sabbath; (2) in connection with Jesus’ preaching, teaching and healing – and his being criticized by the Pharisees for it.

Many of the Gospel scenarios begin with Jesus in the synagogue, reading God’s word and teaching from it. It was common practice back in those days for traveling rabbis like Jesus to be ‘given the mic’ so to speak and to be asked to guest-preach. Preaching is not forbidden on the Sabbath, even though it’s work. Jesus points this out to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:5: “have you not read in the law that on the sabbath day the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless?” Even though ministry is work, because it helps others, because it brings people and God closer together, it is not forbidden on the Sabbath.

In our scripture reading for this morning, we see Jesus and the disciples going through a wheat field and eating on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees criticizing them for it. In this scenario the disciples are breaking Sabbath law in two ways: (1) they were not allowed to harvest on the Sabbath; and (2) they were not allowed to prepare food on the Sabbath. So the Pharisees point out this problem to Jesus. And Jesus tells the Pharisees they’re mistaken… for a whole bunch of reasons.

  • Jesus starts by saying human need is more important than keeping the letter of the law. The disciples were hungry. This wasn’t just a bunch of friends looking for something to graze on, on a Saturday afternoon. They were legitimately hungry.
  • Jesus points out King David himself broke a bigger law when he and his men were hungry. David helped himself to the Bread of the Presence. This was bread that was kept in the sanctuary, in front of the Holy of Holies. It was part of worship, and could only be eaten by priests. But Jesus says when David and his men were in need it was right for them to take it and eat.
  • Jesus points out the priests themselves break Sabbath when they serve in the temple or in the synagogue on the Sabbath; but God allows this because it is a service to the people.
  • Jesus points out God says “I desire mercy not sacrifice” – in this case, mercy on the hungry. Feeding hungry people is an act of mercy, that is permitted even on the Sabbath. And finally
  • Jesus says “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus claims the greater authority.

All this poses a problem for the Pharisees. Jesus is challenging their perception not only of what he does but who He is. Some of the Pharisees are beginning to catch on: Nicodemus, for example, comes to Jesus later and says “we know you’re the Son of God.”  Others begin to understand that Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah, but they’re not having it. This dichotomy between religious leaders who truly love Jesus and those who just ‘act religious’, sadly is still with us today. I’ll talk more about that some other day. For now I’ll just say that, in general, people who are always pointing fingers (like the Pharisees do in this story) are doing it to promote themselves rather than God.

Back to the story. Later the same day, Jesus goes to the local synagogue and he is invited to speak. And while he’s speaking, a man with a withered hand comes in. This raises another Sabbath issue: is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?

Jesus does not deny that healing is work: it is. His argument is that any one of us whose animal is injured on the Sabbath would take care of that animal immediately. Jesus says:

“Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep!” (Matt 12:11-12)

Who would argue with that? I know if my cat was sick on a Sunday I’d be down at the vet’s. Of course you take care of someone who is sick or injured on the Sabbath! The Sabbath was never meant to be an excuse for apathy.

But the Pharisees, hearing this, went out and conspired against Jesus. They started plotting Jesus’ death. Is this not a violation of the Sabbath? The Law says “thou shalt not kill” – how much clearer can God get? How can they take the Sabbath – something meant for blessing – and use it as an excuse for murder?


Ironically, of all the religious groups in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees probably understood God’s law best. Where it came to the other groups: The Sadducees had compromised with the culture to the point that most of the time they missed Jesus’ point entirely; the scribes were petty bureaucrats; and the chief priests were essentially a family dynasty. But the Pharisees actually listened to God’s word and wrestled with it. Their mistake was in thinking it was possible to satisfy the requirements of the law – that is, to be so perfect, they could be holy in God’s eyes. They missed the point of the Old Testament: that by faith Abraham was reckoned as righteous; by faith Moses led the people through the desert; by faith David confronted Goliath. Keeping the law perfectly is impossible for imperfect human beings. The whole point of Scripture is grace, not law. Mercy, not sacrifice.

Back to the synagogue: I love Luke’s description of Jesus teaching in the synagogue.  All the Gospel writers say Jesus was a powerful teacher – to hear him speak; that he taught with authority; that people were moved and lives were changed when Jesus taught. But rarely in the Bible do they actually describe Jesus teaching. Luke does in chapter four of his Gospel. He writes:

“When [Jesus] came to Nazareth… he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)

Can you imagine hearing Jesus speak these words? Luke says “They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.” (Luke 4:32) The Lord of Life – and the Lord of the Sabbath – comes in person and says, “this is the year of the Lord’s favor”.  God has provided. The Messiah is here. The kingdom of God is at hand.  This was Jesus’ central message, wherever he went: “the kingdom of God is at hand.” The kingdoms of this earth are passing away. God’s future is on its way. That’s what Sabbath looks forward to, and gives us just a taste of.

So our take-aways for today: in the Gospels, the Sabbath is always linked to the preaching of the Gospel – the proclaiming of God’s kingdom. And it is also always linked to healing. It is a day of rest – rest blessed by God and shared with others. Rest that brings healing – both to those who are resting, and to those who being cared for. In the Gospels, whenever Sabbath is mentioned, Jesus is healing. Always. And Jesus is teaching grace – God’s grace and mercy for all of us. As we rest on this Sabbath day, let’s look forward with joy to the eternal Sabbath ahead of us with the Lord Jesus in His Kingdom. AMEN.

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Old Testament Reading
“Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.  2 Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.  3 “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.  4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.  5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?  6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?  8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.  9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,  10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.  11 The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.  12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.  13 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;  14 then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”Isaiah 58:1-14

Gospel Reading
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand.  2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him.  3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.”  4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent.  5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.  6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.Mark 3:1-6

Jesus heals the man with the withered hand


This week we continue our series on the Sabbath and what it means to keep the Sabbath.  This is a subject that’s very close to my heart because I’ve discovered over the past few years there is a great blessing, and a sense of emotional and spiritual stability, in keeping the Sabbath.

With the crazy schedules many of us keep, sometimes we have to observe the Sabbath on a Tuesday or a Friday instead of the weekend, and that’s OK. The important thing is to find one day a week in which we do no work, and spend that day with God and with family and friends, or even alone sometimes, recharging our batteries and enjoying all the gifts God has so richly given us.

So far in our Sabbath series we’ve seen in the book of Genesis how God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh day and therefore declared the seventh day holy. Whether you interpret creation as six literal days or six thousand thousand years is beside the point – the point is God rested on the seventh.  And God taught people to do the same in memory of what God had done.

God wrote this command into the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” This is Commandment Number Three.  And God said on the Sabbath everyone is supposed to rest: God’s people, the children of God’s people, anyone who works for God’s people, any animals belonging to God’s people, and any foreigners who are living in the same land as God’s people. Everyone is to rest and enjoy the gifts God has given.

This week we move into what the Psalms and Prophets have to say about the Sabbath. As we soon discover, there’s a problem: the people refuse to rest.  This is true in spite of the promises and warnings the prophets give down through the years.  For example, God says through Isaiah:

“…all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant —  7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer…” (Is. 56:6b-7a)

God says through Jeremiah:

“Thus says the LORD: For the sake of your lives, take care that you do not bear a burden on the sabbath day…” (Jer 17:21)

God speaks through the prophet Amos, talking about a people who can’t wait for Sabbath to be over so they can start selling things at high prices and cheating the poor. God says:

“Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,  5 saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, 6 buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” 7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.” (Amos 8:4-7)

All through the Old Testament prophets are reminding the people over and over that the Sabbath must be observed in order for society to be just and fair.

I tripped over something amazing on Google this week. It’s an article about Yom Kippur and the Sabbath by Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, a leader in Conservative branch of Judaism. (I’ve edited a good bit for time and space but recommend the entire article. [words in square brackets are my notes]) She writes:

“The obligation to observe Shabbat [that is, Sabbath] demands that every person and animal, merely by virtue of being alive, be entitled to a day every week to experience rest, plenty and safety. This was a radical vision… in the time of Isaiah [here she refers to the passage from Isaiah at the top of this article] It is an equally far-reaching concept today. The vast majority of the world’s people are too poor and too oppressed to… take a day off from work. Even in our own communities, there are many who can’t afford a day of rest.  The genius of Jewish tradition is that… Shabbat is an obligation, which – in order to be fulfilled – requires an entirely different social structure. […] In Jewish thinking, a day of rest is not a human right derived from an abstract notion…  Rather, it is a religious obligation, emanating from a concrete notion of what we are required to do for each other…”

In other words, in order to keep the Sabbath, society needs to be fair. Last week I mentioned that if you’ve heard of the saying ‘no justice, no peace’ – what God’s word says is ‘no Sabbath, no justice’. Rabbi Schonfeld’s words are what I meant by that. She wraps up her thoughts by saying:

“In order to practice… Shabbat, a panoply of ethical social systems must be put in place. That is why Shabbat is described… as… a taste of the world to come…”

In this imperfect world Sabbath will never happen perfectly. But it’s a vision to bear in mind as we celebrate the Sabbath and look forward to God’s kingdom and the joy that will be ours.

If anyone’s wondering why a Christian priest is quoting a Jewish rabbi: the Old Testament is the holy book of the Jewish people, and they’ve been practicing Sabbath a lot longer than we have! Besides, Jesus was a Jewish rabbi…

And if all this sounds a bit ‘heavy’ and feels kind of foreign, let me bring us back to familiar territory. Our second scripture reading is from the Gospel of Mark, and it tells the story of what happened when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath.  You remember how the story goes: Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and a man came in who had a withered hand. In those days most people made their living working with their hands, so this man would have suffered not just a hand that didn’t work… he would have been limited in the work he could do, and therefore his life was limited.

The religious authorities – who had just gotten done scolding Jesus’ disciples for picking wheat and eating it on the Sabbath – were watching to see if Jesus would heal on the Sabbath. They were stuck on keeping the letter of the law (“do no work”) and completely missed the spirit of the law: justice and mercy.

Remember what Rabbi Schonfeld said about the connection between Sabbath and justice: that on the Sabbath “everyone is entitled to rest, plenty, and safety.” Is this man with the withered hand going to receive ‘rest, plenty and safety’ from Jesus or from the religious authorities?

Jesus calls the man forward. And he looks over at the religious experts and he says:

“Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or to do harm? To save life, or to kill?”

And they looked at him in silence.

Jesus looked at them in anger and in grief: these were the men who were supposed to be teaching God’s people – by their word and example – what God is like. And their hearts were hard as stone, unmoved by the man’s pain.

But Jesus was moved. And he said to the man, “stretch out your hand.” And he did, and the hand was made whole.

And the apostle Mark tells us, “The Pharisees went out immediately and conspired with the Herodians… how to destroy Jesus.”

It’s like Jesus said: “what is lawful on the Sabbath? To heal or to kill?” The law that tells us “don’t work on the Sabbath” teaches us that showing mercy is the highest form of obedience.

Today on this Sabbath day there are people who are giving up their Sabbath in order to heal: our medical workers, our emergency responders. They’re not resting: but Jesus says what they are doing is fulfilling the law. (May God grant them the opportunity to rest in the near future.)

In the meantime the rest of us can observe the Sabbath. We can set aside one day a week to remember God’s creation and enjoy God’s rest. We can thank God that even in the middle of this strange time we are richly blessed, and we can enjoy God’s “rest, plenty and safety.”

This is the heart of the Sabbath and a taste of God’s kingdom to come. AMEN


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The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.

“‘Count off seven sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.”Leviticus 25:1-12

Last week we started a series of teachings on the Sabbath. God introduces us to Sabbath in the second chapter of Genesis; and in Revelation, the description of God’s kingdom is (in part) a description of the Sabbath; so Sabbath is a central concept throughout the Bible.

Last week we saw God teaching Israel about the Sabbath while the people were still wandering in the wilderness after being set free from slavery in Egypt. God told Israel the seventh day of the week was a day when no-one was to work. This was partly to remember that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world; and partly to begin to teach a people who had been slaves for 430 years what it’s like to not have to work. The people needed to know – as we need to know – that they had the right to say ‘No, I’m not working today. Today is God’s day.’

For the next few weeks we’ll be looking at what God teaches Israel – and us – about the Sabbath. We’ll look at the Old Testament, the Psalms and Prophets, the New Testament, and how the sabbath is practiced today.

Today we look at the Old Testament.  Shortly after introducing Israel to the sabbath, the Israelites came to Mt. Sinai, and here God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The commandments were written in the form of a treaty. You and I in the 21st century, when we read the Ten Commandments, tend to hear them as a list of things to do and not do. But people in the ancient world would have recognized the treaty format right away. It was a special kind of treaty: one usually used by conquering kings to enforce a new set of laws on a people they had just conquered.

Only God had a twist: rather than conquering Israel, God had conquered Egypt. Now God comes to Israel saying essentially, “I have conquered your enemies and set you free. If you want to be my people these are my terms.” Who would say ‘no’ to an offer like that, from someone who has set you free from slavery? Of course Israel said yes.

From a Christian perspective today, these events give us a picture of how God rescues people – anyone who trusts in God. God rescues people from slavery to sin, by the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. How appropriate this scripture is for the season of Easter!  Just as God broke Israel’s chains, God breaks the chains of sin by the power of the cross. And anyone who thinks we’re not slaves to sin should try not sinning for just one day. It’s impossible. We can’t free ourselves, but God can free us. And just as Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea on their way to the Promised Land, we also, when we become believers, pass through the waters of baptism to become God’s people. In Jesus Christ, God wins victory over our enemy and sets us free.

So at the foot of Mount Sinai, God gave the treaty: the Ten Commandments. God says to Israel: If you will be my people, I will show the world my glory through you. And my wisdom will shine in the eyes of all people whenever you obey my laws. And here are the laws:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods but me. 

“You shall not make for yourself an idol… you shall not bow down to them or worship them…

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God…

“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.  For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. (Ex 20:2-11, edited)

Notice God gives the Sabbath law before all the laws dealing with justice issues: honoring father and mother, not killing, not cheating on a spouse, not stealing, not lying in court, not desiring what belongs to someone else. Today, in our time, murder, adultery, theft, and perjury are still illegal. But we’ve forgotten the Sabbath: and the Sabbath is the foundation of all the others. If we don’t have the right to say ‘no’ to the world and ‘yes’ to God; if we don’t have the right to worship God and spend time enjoying God’s company and God’s gifts – the other laws lose their meaning and our ability to keep them. God knew that; and that’s why – after loyalty to God Himself – the Sabbath law comes first.

The Sabbath is God’s gift to God’s people: it is God’s glory and our freedom.

Notice what else this law says. Not only are we set free – but our children are set free. And anyone who works for us is set free. Most people these days don’t have servants: but we have employees, and we have public servants, people who serve us all. I don’t need to detail at a time like this how valuable public service is: in coronavirus time, we are all so aware and so grateful for those who serve the public good. These people also are children of God and they also need to be set free one day a week. And God doesn’t stop there. Animals are not to work on the Sabbath. I love that God gives rights to animals in the law! And last but never least, the resident alien is not to work: the immigrant and the foreigner who lives among us are to be blessed on the Sabbath day, and set free, and treated as one of us.

So what does it mean to ‘keep the Sabbath holy’?  That question has been debated ever since Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments. Not because God’s meaning is unclear; but because human beings have been trying to find a way around this commandment since Day One.

One would think a commandment to take a mini-vacation every seventh day would be the easiest, most agreeable commandment to obey! But there’s always someone who would rather make a little more money than take a day off. There’s always someone who would rather have a nicer car, or some new clothes, or do a little schmoozing, and can’t wait just one more day.  What it really comes down to is: people don’t trust God to provide for their needs.

Back in ancient Israel, when God said “you have six days go out and pick up manna, but on the seventh day there won’t be any so on day six, gather twice as much, so you will have something to eat on the Sabbath” – there were people who simply wouldn’t trust God and insisted on going out on day seven and hunting for manna, when there wasn’t any, just as God said.

The Sabbath Day is God’s treat. The Sabbath is like a little miniature foretaste of life in God’s kingdom in heaven – where everything we need is ours and more. But if we don’t listen to God and stop working, we miss it. And so do our children, and the people who work for us, and our animals, and the foreigners who live among us.

Sabbath is so important that God warned the people of Israel: in the future, if you decide to ignore the Sabbath, your enemies will come and desolate the land. “Then the land shall enjoy its sabbath… while you are in the land of your enemies…” (Lev 26:34)


God doesn’t want this to happen any more than we do. But it underscores how essential the Sabbath is. Sabbath so much more than just a day off. The Sabbath is the foundation of all God’s laws on justice.  You’ve heard the saying ‘no justice, no peace’?  God says: ‘no Sabbath, no justice.’ In Deut. 5:15 God says: “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.” The Sabbath is God’s foundation for our freedom; and without freedom there can be no justice.

You want to know why people are so overworked and underpaid? Why it feels like we’re on a treadmill that never slows down? Why it feels so incredibly foreign and unsettling when we’re forced to stop like we have been recently? It’s because we’ve lost the Sabbath.

In this strange time I’ve heard many people saying, ‘when we get back to normal, there are some changes that need to be made. We need to do things differently.’  And they’re right. This tragedy, this pandemic, has pulled back the curtain. It has allowed us to see through the smoke and mirrors… it has allowed us to see the powers of this world at a complete and total loss, pointing fingers at each other because they can’t think of anything more useful to do.

This strange time has helped us re-focus on what’s important and what isn’t; on what brings healing and what doesn’t. And if we’re listening, we can hear God’s voice calling to us in this time and saying, ‘return to me and I will provide… and I will give you rest unto your souls.’

At this point you may be thinking, “Sabbath sounds wonderful but it sounds like a lot of work! We’d have to change how we live.”  Well… yeah, it’s kind of like changing your diet (which admittedly I’m still working on.) You can’t change your diet if you don’t buy different food at the grocery store. It just takes a little planning. Same thing with the Sabbath. A little bit of prep time – a few to-do items before the weekend – and a Saturday or Sunday of ‘not working’ not only becomes possible but it becomes a joy you don’t want to live without. It becomes a point in life where for just a moment our lives touch eternity.

This coming week, think about the Sabbath. Pray about it. And if you decide to try keeping the Sabbath, write to me and tell me about it, let me know how it’s going.

Sabbath blessings to you and yours. AMEN.

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This reading takes place shortly after Israel left Egypt and was wandering in the wilderness. The people were having problems finding food and were complaining against God and against Moses.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”  […]

13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’” 17 The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.

22 On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23 he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord; bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.’” 24 So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none.”

27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none. 28 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions? 29 See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.  (Exodus 16:4-30, selected verses)

The Word of God for the people of God ~ Thanks be to God


For a long time now I’ve been wanting to write a series on Sabbath, but I’ve never had time to give it my full attention until now.

Most of the time when I’m working in a church I follow the lectionary for sermon topics on Sundays. The lectionary is a calendar of scripture readings that basically makes it possible to read the entire Bible in three years. The lectionary is a good thing for the congregation because they won’t end up hearing just the pastor’s favorite scripture passages. And it’s a good thing for pastors because it challenges us to dig into parts of God’s word we might not otherwise study.

But every now and then I think it’s good to take a break from lectionary and focus on one topic in order to really dig into it. So for the next few weeks I’ll be digging into the Sabbath – what the Bible has to say about the Sabbath, and what God has to say about the Sabbath.

I think talking about the Sabbath is very timely.  Before the COVID pandemic hit, everybody I know was overbooked, overscheduled, overworked, and on a treadmill we felt like we couldn’t get off.  Many people I know were working six days a week, some even seven. Everyone I knew was desperately in need of a Sabbath.

Then when we were told to shelter at home, in some ways (at first) it felt like a vacation: it was a time to stop work and just hang out with family and neighbors. But that feeling didn’t last long. As time has gone on, we’ve discovered that staying at home seven days a week is hard work. And it’s not the kind of work we’re used to, so we’re having to learn how to do it effectively. Working from home (if we’ve been able to bring our jobs home) requires amazing amounts of self-discipline. Some of us are now home schooling; some have taken on part-time jobs because our full-time jobs have disappeared; some are worried about parents and grandparents, and are running errands for people who can’t. But for all of us, this strange time is stressful, worrying, scary. And the longer it goes on the more we sense the need for a break.

I was reading a news story about the pandemic over in Great Britain, how the lockdown is going over there (they’re much in the same situation we are) – and the author mentioned a man who, he said, “just needed to get away from the wife and kids for a little while.” So he got in the car and drove halfway across the country (which in England is around 175 miles round trip) – anyway he drove around 90 miles to Cornwall, a seaside resort, just to look at the ocean and feel free. That is, until the authorities pulled him over and said basically, “you’re not supposed to be out driving around the country” and sent him home.

For that man, that one day of driving was like a Sabbath. It was a break from the work of the week, even if the work of the week was just staying home and taking care of the family. It was a time of rest and refreshment.

So what exactly is the Sabbath?  In the Bible it’s a very important concept. Moses taught about it, the prophets talked about it, the Psalmists wrote songs about it, Jesus got into debates with the scribes and Pharisees about it.

Simply put, in Hebrew, Sabbath (or shabbat) means ‘rest’ – not in the sense of sleep, but in the sense of ‘ceasing from all labor’. The word ‘sabbath’ is also related to the Hebrew word shiva which means ‘seven’ – as in, the seventh day of the week.  Scripture tells us in the second chapter of Genesis, after God had finished creating the heavens and the earth, and all the animals, and finally human beings – it says in Genesis:

“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. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:2-3)

The laws for the Sabbath – what the people were supposed to do and not do on the Sabbath – were spelled out in the Law of Moses, around the time the Ten Commandments were given. But even before the Ten Commandments were given, God taught the people of Israel the rhythm of the seven-day week with the Sabbath as the seventh day.  Early in Exodus, during that time when the people had just left Egypt and were entering into the wilderness, and they were learning about manna, the bread from heaven that God provided, God taught them about Sabbath in the scripture passage at the beginning of this post.

So God was teaching the people, even before the law was given, that the Sabbath was a special day – a day when God would provide, and a day in which no work was to be done.

This was the beginning of God teaching the people about freedom. The people of Israel had spent four hundred and thirty years in slavery in Egypt. Now they were free, but they had no idea what freedom meant. Think about it: For us, 430 years ago was the year 1590. In the 1590s here’s what was happening: William Shakespeare was publishing his first works. The first tulip bulbs were flowering in Holland. Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII, was queen of England. The first water-closet was invented by Sir John Harington, from which we get the name ‘john’ for the bathroom.

That’s how long ago 430 years is. Imagine – if you can – being part of a group of people who have been slaves for 430 years. For all those generations not having the right to say ‘no’ to their taskmasters.

Sabbath is, above all, the right to say ‘no’. No, I will not work today. No, you can’t require it. No, what I do for a living is important, but it’s not as important as Who I live for.  Today, on the Sabbath Day, I belong to God, not to my boss, not to the government, not to the demands of commerce. On the Sabbath a person does not earn money or spend money.

Sabbath is a freedom the people of Israel struggled to understand. It didn’t come naturally to people who had been slaves for so long. It doesn’t come naturally to us either. When we stop working it feels strange, it feels like something’s missing.

Some of us are old enough to remember the ‘Blue Laws’ – back when it was illegal to work on Sundays. I’m not advocating a return to Blue Laws: there were a lot of problems with them, particularly for people who had to work on Sundays, like emergency responders and health care workers and people who supply food to the homebound. I can remember back then working on Sundays as a kitchen worker in a rest home. It was needed work, so it was permitted. But God help me if I forgot to buy gas on Saturday night, because no gas stations were open on Sundays!

Blue laws were finally done away with. But people forgot the reason they’d been written in the first place: they came from an understanding that human beings need a day of rest once every seven days. It’s how we’re made. Taking that day off is important – just like exercise and eating right – it’s necessary for good health, both physically and mentally. And more than that, it’s a day when we can say ‘no’ to the demands of life and ‘yes’ to God’s provision for us and our loved ones.

Sabbath is God’s freedom and God’s riches poured into our lives. We’ll take a look at this in more detail in the next few weeks. Till then – may you seek the Sabbath, and may you find it, and enjoy its rest and its peace in the days ahead.


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In the ancient world in which the events in the Bible take place (particularly the Old Testament), hospitality was an essential part of life. In a place and time when there were no supermarkets, running water, electricity or other public utilities, hospitality – especially to strangers – was essential and could be life-saving.

As we’ve been reading through the book of Genesis this month, examples of hospitality shine out from the pages. Here are two of them:

“[Abraham] looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.” (Genesis 18:2-8)

Abraham sees it as an honor and privilege to serve the strangers who have arrived near his tent – so much so that he bows down and begs them to stay. No doubt travelers would bring news with them which Abraham will be interested to hear; but more than that, he has plenty to share and, as a traveler himself, he knows how wearying the road can be. “Let me bring a little bread” he says – and then orders up a feast!

Here’s another scene. It precedes a sad and violent story so it’s often lost in the melee:

“The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. He said, “Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the square.” But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate.” (Genesis 19:1-3)

Notice Lot greets the visitors (not knowing at this point they are angels) the same way Abraham greeted his visitors: bowing down and asking for the privilege of hosting them. In Lot’s case, he knew the town and knew it wasn’t safe for strangers to bunk down in the town square for the night, so his request is somewhat urgent.  (We find out in the following verses Lot was right; one of the great sins of Sodom was their refusal to protect strangers and make them welcome – and instead to do the opposite.) Again, like Abraham, Lot minimizes his offer: “come wash your feet” is all he suggests, but he immediately presents the visitors with a feast.

Isn’t this how God is with us?  “Come rest from the road,” God says.  “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest,” says Jesus.

The invitation is for all of us.

And for those of us who have said “yes” to God’s invitation: If God has been so unbelievably generous with us, can we fail to welcome others?

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Today we have two scripture readings from the New Testament that are pretty much unrelated in context. Our passage from Colossians is the introduction to Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae, and our passage from Luke contains one of Jesus’ best-known parables. But in the details of each passage we can find common ground, because both of them talk about what it means to be a neighbor.

All of us live in neighborhoods of one kind or another. We may live on a residential street, in an apartment building, in a retirement community. Here in Pittsburgh the sense of neighborhood is important; the phrase “won’t you be my neighbor” resonates for a reason. When I first moved here I was amazed at how my new friends from Pittsburgh couldn’t walk from one end of downtown to the other without running into somebody they knew. Or how, if I got lost, most Pittsburghers wouldn’t just give directions, they’d take you there: “Follow me!”  For a native Philadelphian like myself this felt risky… but here in Pittsburgh even strangers become neighbors very quickly. We’re in this together, and that’s how things are.

The Christian concept of ‘neighbor’ includes all that and more.  Both of our scripture readings for today define ‘being a neighbor’ in ways that take our breath away, even in a city that prides itself on neighborhood.

I’d like to start with Colossians. Paul’s letter to the Colossians gives us a picture of what the church was like back when Christian churches were first starting. Most churches back then didn’t own their own buildings; they met in people’s homes, or outdoors, or in public buildings that weren’t in use at worship time.  The Christian church was a new kind of community; in fact it was a new kind of family, defined not by blood relations but by each person’s relationship with God.

It has become cliché in our culture to say “if God is our Father, we are all God’s children, and that makes us all brothers and sisters.” There’s truth in that, but what Paul describes in his letter is deeper and more costly.

Paul leads off by saying: “When we pray for you we always thank God for you” (v 3) “because we have heard about your faith in Jesus, and your love for the saints, and the hope that is laid up for you in heaven.” (v 4-5a)

Did you hear the echo of I Corinthians 13 in there? In I Corinthians 13, Paul says there are only three things in this world that will last forever: faith, hope, and love: and the greatest is love. If you want to make an investment in eternity, if you want to ‘lay up treasure’ in the Kingdom of God – faith, hope, and love are the coins of the realm! And Paul thanks God for the reports he’s hearing about the Colossian church being rich in faith, hope, and love.

As Paul continues to teach the Colossians what it means to live as Christian neighbors, he brings together faith, hope, and love in such a way that we can see God’s grace and God’s salvation at work as it is being lived. Books upon books have been written on how salvation happens: how it is that people come to be “saved”. Paul’s description here sounds like something John Wesley might have written, with his three kinds of grace: Paul says, “we have heard of your faith” (justifying grace) – “and of the love you have for all the saints” (sanctifying grace) – “because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (prevenient grace).  All three coming together and enabling human beings to inherit the Kingdom of God by the grace of God.

This is what defines the Christian concept of ‘neighbor’ because it creates the foundation on which we become members of God’s family and live as members of God’s family. With the grace of God in play, Paul writes to people he’s never met and calls them “brothers” and “sisters”, “fellow servants of the Lord” and “saints” who have been “rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.” This definition of Christian community still applies today.

It’s important to see God’s hand in bringing all this together: God rescues people from the power of darkness through Jesus. God calls us to be servants, working together for the Kingdom. God inspires and directs our faith, and our hope, and our love. God bears fruit in us.

Paul’s prayer is that God will grow this neighborhood of faith, so that fruit will abound, and so that each person will grow in the knowledge of God’s will; and in spiritual wisdom and understanding; and in good works. So the learning we do here in church is meant to move us from being hearers of God’s word to doers of God’s word. Our outreach to the community is meant to invite more people out of the darkness and into God’s neighborhood where all is light.

So that’s Paul. Our reading from Luke approaches the concept of being a neighbor from a different direction but it still points us to the Kingdom.  In this passage the question becomes: how can we take the concept of neighbor and apply it to everyday life?

I’ll need to back up and lead into this story to set the scene.  Immediately before this passage, Jesus had sent out seventy of the disciples to preach and to heal and to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. The mission was successful: and the disciples come back excited, bouncing off the walls with joy. They say to Jesus: “Lord in your name even the demons submit to us!” And Jesus joins in the celebration and says “I saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning!” And then He goes on to say, “but don’t rejoice that the powers submit to you; rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  And Jesus tells them that many kings and prophets longed to see what they have seen, and never did.

As they are all together, the family of God, neighbors to one another, filled with joy at what God has done… along comes a lawyer. And he throws cold water on their joy. (Keep in mind a ‘lawyer’ in those days was someone who specialized in the Law of Moses: Deuteronomy and Leviticus.  We’re talking about God’s law, not Roman law.)

And this lawyer has a lot of cold water to throw! I see four ways he did this:

  1. He ignores the mood of the room: all the smiles and laughter, all the stories the disciples are sharing about people being healed and people being reunited with God; and he comes up with a very serious look on his face.
  2. Jesus has just told the disciples that their names are written in heaven! The lawyer’s question implies that Jesus might not be in a position to say this. I mean, people study for years and attend synagogue for years before they understand what’s required for eternal life… right?
  3. The lawyer is questioning Jesus in general. Luke says the lawyer asked his question to “test Jesus” – to make sure Jesus is measuring up.
  4. The lawyer leads with the question – “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” – not because he wants to know the answer, but because he already knows the answer. He wants to get Jesus in a spot where he has to modify his position, even just a little: to argue Jesus into a place where he has to admit the lawyer is right.

But Jesus doesn’t take the bait. Instead he steps back into his role of Teacher (that’s what the lawyer called him) and he asks the kind of question a teacher would ask. He says: “What does the law say? What do you read there?”

And the lawyer pulls himself up straight and tall and pronounces the Right Answer. He says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  The lawyer has pulled his answer from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18 and he has quoted the passages without any change or comment. If this were a seminary exam, he would have just aced the test – and he knows it.

And Jesus agrees. He says: “You have given the right answer.” And then Jesus says: “Do this and you will live.”

In the Kingdom of God it’s not enough to know the right answers. Once we know God’s word we have to live it.  And that’s the curveball the lawyer isn’t expecting.  Now if he wants to hold on to the A+ he just earned, he needs to prove he is doing what the law says to do. So in an attempt to prove that – or at least to prove that Jesus can’t prove he isn’t – he asks: “and who is my neighbor?”

I expect the lawyer is probably thinking neighbors are people he lives with, or people he works with, or people who live in his home town. But Jesus tells a story to expand the definition of ‘neighbor’ to something much larger, and much more challenging.

The Good Samaritan

Jesus tells the story of man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho, who falls among robbers and is beaten.  The specifics of Jesus’ story are foreign to us: most of us have never walked from Jerusalem to Jericho, and we don’t deal with Samaritans on a regular basis.  So to bring the story into our own world and our own time, allow me to paraphrase. Let’s say this man is driving from Pittsburgh to Wheeling. He is traveling alone down I-79, and when he stops at a rest stop some men ambush him, beat him up, steal all his things including his car and his clothes, and leave him lying on the grass outside the vending machine building, half-dead.

A little while later a priest stops in to use the facilities, sees the man lying on the grass, and passes by.  Jesus doesn’t say why the priest passes by. Scholars have debated possible reasons, but I think Jesus’ point is – for someone who knows the scriptures and who knows what God requires – there is no good reason to walk by and do nothing.

A little bit later a church volunteer stops in and does the same thing.  And then a third man comes along: someone whose religion is suspect, someone whose nationality is both foreign and unwelcome – that’s what Samaritans were: wrong religion, foreign and unwelcome. Today we might choose, say, an immigrant from Iraq. This immigrant sees the man, and is moved with compassion, and bandages his wounds; and at great risk to himself picks the man up, puts him in his own car, and drives him to the nearest Comfort Inn – where he gives the hotel manager two days’ wages and says, “take care of him; and when I come back I will repay you whatever you spend.”

And Jesus asks: “which of these three men was a neighbor to the man who was beaten up?”

The lawyer again gives the right answer. He says: “the one who showed mercy”. And Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”

What we see in both these passages is that while the facts are important, the kingdom of heaven isn’t just about knowing the right answers; it’s about wisdom, and it’s about compassion, and it’s about knowing the will of God.

And it’s about building right relationships and being good neighbors: first with God, as Paul says in Colossians. And then with each other, as Jesus describes in Luke. Jesus is not only our teacher; but in leaving heaven to reach out to us in love, and to help us when we could not help ourselves, he is also our example. Let us therefore go… and do likewise. AMEN.


Colossians 1:1-14   Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,  2 To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

3  In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,  4 for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,  5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel  6 that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.  7 This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf,  8 and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

9 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,  10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.  11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully  12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.  13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,  14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 10:25-37  Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”  27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

29  But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.  34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’  36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”


Preached at Carnegie United Methodist Church, Hill Top United Methodist Church, and Incarnation Church (Anglican) in Pittsburgh, 7/14/19


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This week, on Thursday, we will celebrate the 243rd anniversary of the birth of the United States of America. It’s is a day when we remember and celebrate our many freedoms: freedom from Great Britain (much as I love Queen Elizabeth), freedom to live as we choose, freedom to worship God in peace, freedom to do and to become the very best we can be.

So I was delighted when I discovered our New Testament reading today talks about freedom.  Our passage is from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

By way of background: Paul was Jewish but he was also a Roman citizen, and Roman citizens considered themselves free people.  In Paul’s parents’ lifetime, Rome was a democratic republic, much like ours; in fact, our government is to some extent modeled after it. The Republic had built-in political safeguards and balances of power. But in the years leading up to Jesus’ birth, Rome was divided by civil war; Julius Caesar was assassinated: and the Republic fell. What remained for the next few hundred years was the Roman Empire.  Under the Empire, power was concentrated in the emperor’s hands. While the Senate continued, as time passed it had less and less real power, and the emperor became essentially a dictator.

Paul was born after the Roman Empire had begun; but Paul’s parents most likely remembered the days of the Republic. And as citizens, all of them would have grown up thinking of themselves as free people even though the political ground under them was shifting.

I mention all this to point out that where it comes to freedom, Paul’s mindset was probably very similar to ours: he was a ‘free man’. He was also a member of an ancient and traditional religion, one that was not really in favor with the upper echelons of power but which was tolerated. Paul was not above using his rights as a Roman citizen to help spread the good news of Jesus.

As we listen to what Paul has to say about freedom we might get the feeling that he believes in anarchy – total lawlessness. Most of the book of Galatians is about not being trapped by the law. By ‘law’ Paul means the teachings of Moses, which would have included the Ten Commandments and all the other laws God gave to Israel through Moses. But what Paul says about the law could really apply to any set of laws.

Paul drives his point home so well, some of his contemporaries claimed he was saying that Christians are above the law. Rest assured this could not be further from the truth. The fact is, Paul has his sights on something higher than law: life in God’s Kingdom. Jesus came to earth to proclaim God’s Kingdom, and as we enter into God’s Kingdom, the law is no longer necessary.

Paul leads off our reading today with the words “For freedom Christ has set us free.” As citizens of the United States we might ask (and Paul as a citizen of Rome might also have asked) are we not already free?

But in Paul’s eyes, there’s freedom and then there’s freedom.


Paul writes to the church in Galatia because some religious leaders visited from Jerusalem and told them Christians are obligated to keep the Jewish law – and this included male believers being circumcised.  Circumcision was (and still is) the rite of initiation into the Jewish faith; but you can imagine how the Gentiles in Galatia felt about this.  And Paul takes the Galatians’ side – in words that I won’t repeat!

Paul’s argument, though, goes way beyond circumcision and cuts to the heart of the matter: we are saved by grace and not by keeping the law. Christ has set us free from the law.  Jesus died to forgive our sins – all the times when we have not been able to live up to the law. “The wages of sin is death”, but Jesus took our place on the cross. God receives us because when God looks at us, God sees the righteousness and perfection of Jesus. So if we try to be good Christians by obeying the Old Testament law, we take ourselves out of God’s grace and put ourselves in a place where we must keep the whole law. And if we do that, we lose our freedom in Christ and fall back into slavery to the law. We need God’s grace: there is no other way; all other roads lead to slavery.

That’s Paul’s message, and that’s the big picture of Galatians in a nutshell.

In our passage for today, however, Paul warns that our freedom in Christ can be misused, if we choose to use our freedom to indulge ourselves.  And Paul gives us a long list of things people frequently indulge in.  As we listen to this list, we might be tempted to think Paul is setting up a whole new set of laws, but that’s not his point. Paul’s point is that Godly freedom is found in service, not in self-seeking.  And the corollary to that point is that using our freedom to indulge the passions of the flesh, strips away the very freedom we think we’re exercising and leads us back into slavery.

So turning now to our passage in Galatians…

Paul says “for freedom Christ has set us free.”  Believing in Jesus fulfills the law of God. In believing we are counted as righteous.  ‘Believing’ does not mean intellectual assent, but rather the kind of faith that lives what is believed. Paul says “stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  He warns: if we use our freedom to indulge ourselves we will find ourselves enslaved by our own desires (or by the desires of those who feed our desires).

One of the great truths of life is (in the words of the old Bob Dylan song) “you gotta serve somebody”.

We can’t escape that. We might serve our bosses, we might serve our spouses, we might serve our families, we might serve God – but one way or another we will serve somebody.  What Paul says is this: if we are going to serve God, what God has commanded us above all other commandments is: “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Paul says ‘become servants to one another in love’.

Paul then goes into some detail about how not to get caught up in being self-serving.  He warns that serving ourselves might look like a pleasant idea at first, but it’s actually a trap: and it’s the kind of trap that gets tighter the more you struggle.  Paul explains that God’s Holy Spirit within us is opposed to the flesh, and the flesh is opposed to the Spirit.

As an aside: when Paul talks about ‘the flesh’ he does not mean that our bodies are evil, or that our bodies drag us into immorality. This view of ‘the flesh’ is an ancient Greek concept that snuck into the early church, but the Jewish understanding of human nature does not think of the spirit as more holy than the body; or even that the spirit is separate from the body. Body and spirit are united and are equally redeemed by Christ.  What Paul means by ‘flesh’ is anything in us that cannot survive contact with God; that is, anything unholy or anything in us that dies when we pass through death and step into God’s kingdom. The Greek word Paul uses is sarki, which is the word we get sarcophagus from – having to do with death.

So the fleshly activities Paul lists in verses 18-21 talk about things that won’t go with us into God’s kingdom.  This list is not meant to be comprehensive, and Paul says so. This is just a short list of examples. Serving the ‘flesh’ might include indulging the body, or it might include indulging negative attitudes or behaviors.

By contrast, with God’s Spirit in us, we are able to have godly thoughts, holy desires, holy passions.  And yes, there are holy passions.  As one theologian put it: ‘The flesh has its desires and the Spirit has other desires, but the contrast is not between having passion and having no passion, but rather different kinds of passion.’  Christians aren’t supposed to be like Mr. Spock on Star Trek.  God never asks us to give up being passionate! God loves people who love passionately.

As human beings we will always have passions, desires, and longings. Paul’s point is, if we use our freedom selfishly, to indulge ourselves, gratifying our own flesh will result in harming the flesh of others. This is what Paul is getting at in verse 15 where he says: “if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”

One look at our world today shows the truth of this.  People desire power, so they take up arms and start wars. People indulge hatred, so they take guns into schools and synagogues. People desire wealth at any cost, so workers are cheated out of their pensions, and global warming is ignored. People in wealthy countries crave drugs, and the governments of smaller countries fall apart under the anarchy of drug lords. And then we have refugees at our door… Lord have mercy.

If we indulge our flesh, we end up consuming one another. This is the ultimate end of a ‘consumer culture’.

Looking at Paul’s list of fleshly cravings – which again is not comprehensive – I’d like to spend a few minutes with just four of them: four ‘sins of the flesh’ that we don’t usually think of as ‘sins of the flesh’.

The first is Idolatry.  Idolatry is the root sin of all sins.  It is disobeying Commandment #1. Idolatry is having something in our hearts that is more important than God or that takes the place of God. It could be drugs or alcohol or pornography… but it could also be something good, like a job, or our families, or earning an income, or a hobby, or even some kind of recreation. These are all good things – blessings from God – meant to bring God’s goodness into our lives, and to inspire praise and worship. We thank God for our families, for supplying our needs, for the abilities God gives us to play sports or to grow vegetables or to enjoy a movie. But if any of these things becomes more important than God, it becomes an idol.  It is my belief that idolatry is the #1 slavery of our time.

The second is like it: Sorcery – which is an old-fashioned word. We tend to think of sorcery as being a kind of dark magic, sort of like witchcraft, but that’s only a small part of the definition. Sorcery may or may not involve calling on evil spirits. At its heart, sorcery is playing God: grasping for power that only God should have, or trying to manipulate the world around us, and the people around us, to do what we want rather than what God wants.

The third is Enmities – which includes hatred, either in action or in thought; along with strife, jealousy, anger, and selfish ambition.

And the fourth is dissension and factions – or to put in another way, disunity and partisanship. Examples include all the divisions we see in public life today. People remark these days how much more violent public conversation has become, and how much more divided our country is. These divisions are reflected in everything from Facebook debates to TV newscasts that sound more like gossip columns than real news. Have you ever wondered what it is that motivates people to spend hours arguing with total strangers on the Internet? Dissensions and factions gratify the flesh; they engage the passions every bit as much as sex, maybe more so.  And these dissensions and factions are tearing our nation apart.

One more reason to pray fervently that God’s word is heard across this land.

These four things are just a few of the things Paul mentions in his list of fleshly pursuits.  God considers these four just as serious and just as fleshly as the sexual sins (if not more so) and they are equally hazardous to our freedom.  The self-seeking passion that drives people to adultery has the same root in our hearts as the passion that drives the political divisions in our country. And people are equally addicted to both, and addiction is loss of freedom.

Paul warns us: what looks like freedom, what looks like the ability to do as we choose, and to get what we want, will ultimately trap us, and in the end will prevent us being and becoming who we really want to be.

Thank goodness God doesn’t leave us there – and neither does Paul.  Paul closes by pointing us in a positive direction: “By contrast” he says “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, a gracious attitude, generosity, moral excellence, faithfulness, gentleness, courtesy, and self-control.” (I added a few words in that list because they’re implied in the Greek but haven’t quite made it into most English translations.) If we have the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, we are free of the law – because in loving and serving others, we fulfill the law.

For freedom we have been set free.


Jesus once said, “if you would be my disciple, you must take up your cross and follow me.”  Paul’s words in Galatians 5 help explain what Jesus meant: letting go of the flesh and living in the Spirit. This only makes sense, because flesh is mortal; it is doomed to die.  But life – eternal life – comes from walking in the Spirit. In spite of all appearances, the cross is the doorway to life.

When we are born into this world, we are born in bondage to the corruption of this world. When we are born in the Spirit, we are born into freedom. We might be tempted to think if we follow God’s law to the letter, it would be a good way to avoid evil; but Paul says not so: trying to follow the law will only take away our freedom.  Those who walk in the Spirit produce the fruit of the Spirit, against which there is no law; and therefore we are free.

For freedom Christ has set us free. This holiday week, let’s rededicate ourselves to REAL freedom – setting aside desires that would enslave us, and serving one another in the love and power of the Spirit. AMEN.



Preached at Carnegie United Methodist Church and Hill Top United Methodist Church, 6/30/19


Galatians 5:1, 13-25  For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.  17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.  18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.  19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,  20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,  21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Luke 9:51-62  When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.  52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him;  53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.  54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”  55 But he turned and rebuked them.  56 Then they went on to another village.  57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”  62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”


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In one of the traditional communion services there’s a point where the pastor lifts up the bread and cup says, “the gifts of God for the people of God.”


Today I want to talk about “the power of God for the people of God” because one of the gifts God shares with his people is power.

We can’t just appropriate God’s power; we can’t take it for ourselves. I have heard preachers say sometimes that Jesus said, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22) and therefore if you pray and don’t get what you’re asking for you’re not praying with enough faith.  But prayer doesn’t work like that. It’s not like a vending machine, where if you put enough in, you get what you want out. We pray to have a relationship with God, our heavenly Father; and just like with any loving parent there are times when God has to say ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ to the things we ask for.

That said, God does share God’s-self with us in many ways, including in power. The gift of God’s power shines through in all three of our scripture readings today.  In Revelation it’s God’s power to save; in John it’s power of faith; and in Acts it’s the power of resurrection.


Starting with our reading in Revelation: this passage begins right after the sixth seal out of seven has been opened. God is in the process of judging the earth, and with the first five seals we read about scenes of apocalyptic destruction. But at the sixth seal in chapter seven everything stops for a moment, while God’s angels mark the foreheads of 144,000 saints: twelve thousand from each of the 12 tribes of Israel. And when this is done, multitudes upon multitudes of people from every tribe, every nation, every ethnicity, appear before God’s throne and before the Lamb, saying:

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” […] “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Rev 7:10-12 edited)

What’s going on in front of God’s throne is beyond our imagining. We try, as we read these words, to picture in our minds what it will look like, but our imaginations fall short. And I think that’s the way it should to be: because if we could get our minds around God, our God would be too small, know what I mean?

These words were written for everyday believers like you and me who are going through tough times.  The whole book of Revelation was written to and for believers who were being persecuted, in order to encourage and strengthen them. Today in our country Christians may not be persecuted like they were back then, but many in our society consider Christianity to be irrelevant, a throw-back to a previous era, and so they marginalize faithful people.  And some churches, particularly black churches, are very much targets of persecution today, as are many churches around the world.  The scene we see in Revelation shows the power of God for the people of God – assuring us that God’s victory is sure and salvation truly is ours and nothing can take it away.

In our passage from the Gospel of John, we see the power of God working through faith – faith in God and faith in Jesus Christ; and in the case of the religious leaders, we see the power people don’t have when they lack faith. In this story the religious leaders working in the temple decided to take Jesus on.  From a strictly human point of view, these religious leaders had wonderful lives: they lived in the capital city of Jerusalem; they had power at their command; many of them came from influential families and had inherited wealth. They were intelligent, well-educated, and successful, but they lacked faith.

Jesus arrived in the temple at the Festival of Rededication, which is another name for Hanukah. Hanukah celebrates the rededication of the temple at the end of the Maccabean Revolt which happened around 165BC. So for Israel in Jesus’ time, this was a fairly new holiday; and it was a holiday that was both religious and nationalistic in meaning.

So one day Jesus is walking in the Portico of Solomon, in the outer temple, in an area that offered at least a wind-break from the chilly winter breezes. John says “the Jews gathered around him” – meaning the religious leaders – surrounding Jesus in a circle, and not a particularly friendly circle.  Have you ever found yourself in a situation like that? I’ve witnessed it a couple times – people gathering around one person in a circle – and it can be very intimidating.  And they said to Jesus, in 21st century language: “Dude, you’re killing us here. If you are really the Messiah, say so.”

Jesus answered, “I have said so, and you don’t believe.” Jesus had told them and shown them who he was in many ways: through his teaching, through his miracles (for example, the healing of the paralyzed man, when Jesus said to the Pharisees “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ 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 home.” Luke 5:23-24).  But they didn’t believe him.  He told them who he was in their debates over what should and should not be done on the Sabbath.  He even said, “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” – but they didn’t believe him.

At the same time, the scribes and Pharisees had admitted they knew who Jesus was:

  • Matthew 22:15-17: Then the Pharisees… sent their disciples to Jesus, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth…” (They said this to set a trap, but still they admitted it.)
  • John 3:1-2 a Pharisee named Nicodemus “came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”” ‘We’ meaning all the Pharisees: ‘we know’.
  • John 12:42 “many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue…”

So the religious leaders knew intellectually who Jesus was; but that knowledge never made it to their hearts or into their wills, because it would have meant giving up everything they had worked for, and letting Jesus lead them.  They would have lost their place, their status, their means of making a living, and their authority over the people. And they weren’t going to do that. So the religious leaders lost out on God’s blessing for themselves and God’s power in their lives.

Jesus holds the power of truth, but they denied it. They rejected God’s good will for themselves, and their families, and – because they were in positions of national authority – for their country.  And the apostle Mark tells us their hardness of heart made Jesus angry. (Mark 3:5) The power of God could not operate in their lives because of their hardness of heart.

The story we read in Acts is in total contrast to this.  From a human point of view, the women we meet in this story were the lowest in their society.  They lived in a town about nine miles from Joppa, in the heart of the country; they had no political power, no influence with the religious establishment, no wealth, no position. They may not have been poor; the town of Lydda was located at a crossroads where business was good. But there was nothing about these women that would have made them stand out in a crowd. They were ordinary, everyday people.

As the story opens, we meet Tabitha, whose name means “gazelle”. Historians believe she was a widow, but that’s not certain; what we do know is she spent her life doing good for others, doing acts of charity.  She was known among the people for her good works – all the people, both Jews and Gentiles – which is why scripture gives us her name in two languages: she was Tabitha to the Jews, and Dorcas to anyone who spoke Greek. She gave generously to both: especially widows, orphans, and foreigners. She did this because the Old Testament men of God had taught this was God’s will:

  • In Deuteronomy God spoke through Moses, telling the people to show “justice for the orphan and the widow, and [to] love the stranger, providing them food and clothing” (Deut 10:18)
  • In Jeremiah God says to the people: “if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood… and if you do not go after other gods… then I will dwell with you…” (Jer 7:6-7)
  • In Ezekiel God warns the people of Israel about coming disaster. God says: “the alien residing within you suffers extortion; the orphan and the widow are wronged in you.” (Ez. 22:7) These evils brought disaster and exile to Israel.
  • In Zechariah God says: “do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor” (Zech 7:10)
  • In Malachi, God says he will judge “sorcerers… adulterers… those who swear falsely… those who oppress the hired workers… [those who oppress] the widow and the orphan, [and] those who thrust aside the alien…” (Mal 3:5)

Tabitha understood God’s words, and took all these words to heart.  She cared for the widows and the poor with her own hands. She was particularly good at making clothing – for both men and women.  When she died she was grieved by many. And the people she had loved and cared for in life, cared tenderly for her in death. They observed the Jewish rituals for washing her body; and by doing so they made themselves ‘ritually unclean’ – according to Jewish law, they would not have been able to worship in the temple for seven days after touching a dead body. They were willing to do that for her because they loved her.

Joppa shoreline

And they also sent two men to go find Peter, who was staying nearby in Joppa, with this request: “please come to us right away.”  And so Peter did, and they took him to the upstairs room where Tabitha’s body was laid out. And the widows came to him, weeping, and showed Peter all the garments Tabitha had made for them. And they told him all about her kindness and her generosity.

I’m not sure what they expected Peter would do: certainly he would share in their grief. Maybe he lead her funeral service? I don’t think it ever crossed their minds that Peter might do what he did.  I mean, apart from Jesus and a few Old Testament prophets, no one had ever raised a person from the dead. I’m not sure even Peter knew what was going to happen.  One thing we can be sure of: Peter wanted to have a word with Jesus in private. So he asked everyone to leave the upstairs room, and then he knelt down and prayed.  And Jesus must have told him during that prayer what to do and what to say.  In the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter rose from his prayer and turned to the dead body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” And she did!

Side note: the word Peter used in Greek for “get up” is anestethi which is the word we get anesthetics from. The word anesthesia essentially means resurrection drug.  So for those of you who might be facing surgery at some point, the word anesthesia doesn’t so much mean put you under as it means bring you back up. I have always found that encouraging.

Back to our story.  Peter says, “Tabitha, get up” and she opens her eyes, and she sees Peter, and she sits up! And Peter offers his hand and helps her stand. And then he calls out to all the believers and the widows waiting outside, and their tears turn into shouts of joy and praise to God!  The woman they loved, who loved them so much, was alive again!

News of this spread all through Lydda and Joppa, and many people came to believe in Jesus because of this miracle. This is the power of God for the people of God – given so our joy can be full and so that sinners can be saved. And after this, Peter decided to stay for awhile in Joppa, teaching the new believers; so he was in the right place at the right time about a week later when a Roman soldier named Cornelius was visited by an angel and told to send for Peter because Peter had a message for him.

This meeting between Peter and Cornelius brought the gospel of Jesus to the Gentiles. Cornelius was the first non-Jewish person to become a Christian. Without him we would not be here today. And all of this was made possible by one woman’s generosity – doing what she able to do to love God’s people with the gifts God had given her.

Today being Mothers Day I think it’s particularly appropriate to remember that ordinary things in ordinary lives, done with God’s extraordinary love, mean more to the world (and to God’s plans) than the most powerful people at the heights of society.  In God’s economy, what we do – as everyday people – has more meaning for eternity than any politician in Washington, or any official in church hierarchy, or any board of directors in a corporation. Praise God! This resurrection power is the power of God for the people of God. AMEN.

Preached at Carnegie United Methodist Church and Fairhaven United Methodist Church, 5/12/19


Scripture Readings for the Day:

Acts 9:36-43  Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity.  37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs.  38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.”  39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.  40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up.  41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive.  42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.  43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

Revelation 7:9-17  After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.  10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,  12 singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?”  14 I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.  16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;  17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

John 10:22-30  At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter,  23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.  24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”  25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me;  26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.  27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.  28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.  29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.  30 The Father and I are one.”


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I’m currently reading the book Love Undocumented, about an American woman who falls in love with and marries an immigrant from south of the border. The book gives a personal, American-citizen’s experience of our immigration system.

In this book Sarah Quezada writes:

“A 2015 study from LifeWay Research [a conservative Christian think tank] revealed only one in five evangelical Christians said their church had ever encouraged them to reach out to immigrants in their communities. Yet almost 70 percent of those surveyed said they would appreciate a sermon that taught how biblical principles and examples could be applied to the issue of immigration.”

Question for Christian believers of every stripe: does this paragraph ring true for you? Would you indeed welcome preaching on a Biblical approach to the issue of immigration?  And if so, what questions do you have?

Thank you in advance for your replies.



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“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea;
There is kindness in His justice which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Saviour; there is healing in His blood.” – hymn by Frederick William Faber
O Lord inspire our hearts today to know you and to trust you more, to your honor and glory. AMEN.

Heads up: Today’s sermon is going to be a little dark.  It kind of fits the weather today. And besides, we’re only a few weeks away from Lent, and this sermon goes well with Lent.

We’ll be looking today mostly at the reading from Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17:5-10) which leads off with the words: “Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength…”

Jeremiah is speaking to the rulers of Israel, and through them to the people of Israel, during Israel’s darkest days: dark, because the nation was in complete and total rebellion against God.  Jeremiah’s task was to warn them that if they didn’t turn back to God, the kingdom would fall and the people would go into exile – which is exactly what happened not long afterwards.  Jeremiah’s listeners responded by making fun of him and persecuting him and saying “can’t you ever say anything positive???”

That’s the context of today’s reading. But today I don’t want to focus so much on ancient history as I want to talk about now, recent history, and present day, in a sermon called “Parched or Planted?”

Parched or Planted?

Jeremiah, sharing God’s word and God’s heart, tells the people ‘you have a choice.’ Your life can either be like a shriveled up little shrub trying to squeeze water out of what’s essentially a lava-field or desert sand, or your life can be like a tree planted near a fresh-water stream, never dry and always producing fruit.  And God says through Jeremiah what makes the difference between the two, is what direction the heart is pointed in: the dried-up shrub has a heart that is turned away from God; the fruitful tree has a heart that trusts God.

The President of Jewish Theological Seminary, Behar Behukkotai, recently pointed out that in the Hebrew language and in Jewish thought, God’s curses are related to drought and dryness and a failure of crops. He writes that the Law of Moses teaches us to live by faith in this regard.  The law says “Do not sow seed in the seventh year, as you do the other six.” Be confident that God will take care of your needs that year and the next. Buy and sell property knowing that, in the jubilee year, all property will revert to its original owners. Walk through the land… tak[ing] responsibility for its stewardship… follow[ing] God’s commands, and subordinat[ing] your will to God.”

Behukkotai sees a parallel between disobedience to these commands and idolatry.  And when he talks about “being confident that God will take care of our needs” in the sabbath year – this is the definition of what Jeremiah is talking about when he says “trust in the Lord”. This kind of trust is not just an intellectual thing; it means to rest in, to feel completely safe. And so the question comes to us today: are we trusting in human power, or are we trusting the Lord? Are we parched, or are we planted?

The answer to these questions may not be as easy as we think.  At the end of our passage in Jeremiah, God comments: “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse – who can understand it?” This is not a change of subject; it’s a continuation of the earlier thoughts.  So in case we start thinking, “I know which direction my heart is pointed in,” God confronts us with the fact that we don’t even know our own hearts.

And this is where the message begins to get dark.

Even psychologists will tell us that we don’t really know ourselves; that all of us have at least some mild neuroses; and, as the saying goes, “‘Normal’ is only a setting on the dryer.”  In some ways we can only know ourselves by getting feedback from others, and that’s why intimate relationships and friendships with faithful people are so important. The apostle Paul tells us to “encourage one another and build up each other” (I Thess 5:11) and we can do this for each other because we are able to see things from different perspectives and help each other fill in some of the missing information.

But then we have to take into account that other people aren’t perfect either, and the fact is, we often hurt each other without meaning to. You may remember the old song “You Always Hurt the One You Love”. This is not some sado-masochistic theme song, it’s reality: only the people closest to us are in a position to hurt us deeply. And I know, for myself, my prayers of confession are incomplete; there are a lot of sins I’ve forgotten already, a lot of memories that have faded over the years, and a lot of things I’ve done that I can’t begin to explain. We really don’t know our own hearts.

By way of illustration: Over the past few months I’ve been reading a couple of books that bring the depth of our human lack of self-knowledge into brilliant focus. The first book was a best-seller back in the 1960s called Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer, who was one of Adolf Hitler’s closest friends.  The second book is written by prize-winning European journalist Gitta Sereny, called Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth.

I should explain I was drawn to these two books by many conversations I’ve had recently with people who are afraid that Nazi-ism is on the rise in America today, and in the world in general. I think there’s a great deal that 21st-century people can learn from these two books, and I recommend both.

Speer’s book

Speer’s book is a memoir: an inside view of Nazi Germany, which he wrote while serving 20 years in prison for war crimes.  He tries to be as detailed with his memories as he can be, and he brings to life all the major characters of the Nazi hierarchy. The first thing that struck me as I was reading this book was that he is talking about people.  Today we make Nazis into monsters, which is a natural thing to do knowing what they did, and remembering all millions who died; but putting a human face on the perpetrators is necessary if we are going to say “never again” and make it stick. Because if the Nazis were not human, then Nazi Germany was just a fluke, and it never will happen again.  But if these people were human then we must remember, and we must keep watch, and we must say “never again” and make it stick, because the possibility is always there.

Speer as Hitler’s Architect

So Speer’s book is the confessions of one man who realized what he’d fallen into – but too late. He had served Hitler first as an architect, and then as Minister of Armaments, he provided all the materials the army needed for the war. He was convicted of war crimes at Nuremburg because some of the factories he controlled made illegal use of prisoners of war and other forced labor.  But Speer is known to history as the only Nazi who ever said “I’m sorry.” Towards the end of the war, when they knew the war was lost, and Hitler was descending into suicidal madness and ordering a “scorched earth” policy for Germany, Speer traveled the country countermanding Hitler’s orders and telling the people “when the Allies get here, for God’s sake surrender. Don’t blow up the factories, don’t blow up the bridges, leave something standing for the next generation.”  And then… he risked his life to return to Berlin and tell Hitler what he’d done, and to say ‘goodbye’. There was something in Speer that could not let go of the charisma of this madman. And Speer can’t explain this; he finds that he doesn’t even understand himself.

Gitta Sereny’s book

So the second book I read is titled well: “Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth”. Gitta Sereny spent 12 years of her life researching this book, including three years of interviews with Speer himself in which she becomes the most brilliant psychologist I’ve ever read, holding her own self out of the picture, and asking him questions that slowly tease the truth out of his memories, for 700 pages.

Speer being interviewed by Sereny

If you want to know her conclusions you’ll have to read the book. Or you could save yourself some time and read Jeremiah.  “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals…”  Nazi Germany was taken in by one particularly evil mortal, but any mortal will do to prove the truth of this verse. If our trust is in political leaders, economic leaders, even religious leaders, we’re going to find ourselves in some very parched places.

But! Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.  They shall not fear when drought comes; they will be like trees that stay green; they will not cease to bear fruit.

And Gitta Sereny’s book gives a brilliant example of this.

After spending 20 years in prison, from 1946 to 1966 – think about how much the world changed in those two decades – Speer was released and was faced with rebuilding his life. And one day he received a letter from a Jewish rabbi by the name of Aba Geis, a man who trusted in the Lord. He wrote:

Sehr geehrter Herr Speer,

In 1963 I read G.M. Gilbert’s Nuremburg Diary, and after that I thought of you time and again. You were different from the others accused at the Nuremburg trial and I found the sentence you were given too severe…

Not long ago I saw parts of two of your TV interviews and was again impressed by you. You will have to go on bearing your lot, as I and the survivors must bear ours. But I did want to tell you that even where I don’t understand you, I respect you.  But even more than that, as a devout Jew, I feel that there has to be forgiveness, and I am profoundly convinced that you are under the star of this forgiveness, for you are today an honest man.  I haven’t read your book yet, but… I didn’t want to delay until then sending you these few words.

With warm greetings, Raphael Geis

Speer commented to Sereny, “I think the day I received that letter was one of the most important days of my life.”  The two men became friends and remained friends until Geis’s death.

This letter contains the words of a man who is a tree planted by water; who knows the truth of human hearts, and who places his trust in the Lord. And with his trust in God, he turned the heart of a former Nazi.

Sereny quotes one other letter from Geis in her book that I think speaks very clearly to life in the 21st century, as well as illustrating the words of Jeremiah. Geis writes to Speer:

“When I was a young rabbi in Munich, at the beginning of the Third Reich, I couldn’t allow myself tears, because I had to be strong for the confused and frightened Jews in my care. That is how I survived Buchenwald… [and the passing of] my sister and her family at Auschwitz. Why do I write you this? Certainly not in order to open up a mercifully drawn curtain, but to tell you that my own fate in the Third Reich… taught me that one cannot categorize human beings. I knew, for instance, high-ranking Nazis whose helpfulness was exemplary, and I knew of Jews who denounced me to the Gestapo. I always understood about the quality of the world’s so-called compassion… Without the cowardly silence of the great powers, Hitler would never have become the awful reaper of death he became. And in the subsequent years? Vietnam, Greece, Spain, South America, South Africa… If one does not wish to despair and if one recognizes that the battle is on many fronts, then one knows that the first victory is to say time and time again “Yes” to individual human beings. I can look upon you as a comrade because I sense you to be true…”

This is a foretaste of life in God’s kingdom: this is a place where living waters flow; where there is nothing to fear, and nothing is lacking. As Jeremiah says, God searches human hearts: to understand, and to bring truth: but ‘searching’ a wound is also the beginning of healing. And so we see in Luke, Jesus comes as the great healer. Luke says: “Power came out from him and healed them all” – that is, all who were following Jesus. Jesus didn’t heal everybody in Israel that day, but he healed all who were there… everyone who put their trust in him.

BTW there’s a lovely postscript to the story these books tell: just last month, Albert Speer’s daughter received the Obermayer German Jewish History Award, presented on Holocaust Remembrance Day (2019), for work she has done creating a foundation to support Jewish women artists. And they remark that she also has welcomed refugees from Syria and Afghanistan to live her own home.

Parched or planted: the decision is ours.  We live in a world that is dying of thirst, and yet continues to put its faith in mere mortals; a world that trusts in human power, in spite of the fact that human power has led to tragedy over and over and over.

Will we live like dried-up shrubs in the desert? Or will we live like fruit trees planted by the stream? And the fruit we bear – what will it help others to become? As we turn our hearts to the Lord in trust – resting in God’s goodness and mercy – Jesus brings healing and the hope of rich blessings to come. In a world of uncertainty, this we can trust. AMEN.




Preached at Fairhaven United Methodist Church, Spencer United Methodist Church, and Incarnation Church (Anglican) in the Strip District, Pittsburgh 2/17/19


Jeremiah 17:5-10  Thus says the LORD: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD.  6 They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.  7 Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.  8 They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.  9 The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse– who can understand it?  10 I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.

Luke 6:17-26   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.

 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.  19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

 20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.  22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.  23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.  26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”


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