Galatians 3:28

_

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

_

Today’s photo takes us to Rome and the famous Pantheon. As its name suggests, it was most likely a temple that celebrated all the gods. Visitors from all over the empire would find in this great edifice reason to celebrate their religious diversity.

Our culture calls upon us to celebrate diversity and has embraced this idea to the point of making it a virtual absolute. No culture, idea, tradition, aesthetic, etc, is of more value than any other…except the idea of diversity, of course. One definition of celebrate is ‘to praise widely’. If that’s what the culture wants me to do on behalf of diversity, I’m not so sure.

The trumpeting of the glories of diversity by the culture is not surprising. The culture is really at a stand off here. They really have nowhere else to go. Is cultural window shopping the best we can do? What, if anything, is capable of actually moving beyond the stalemate of diversity into unity? For that is something I would want to praise widely.

St. Paul points us beyond a world defined by relative distinctions to a world defined by its relationship to God in Christ. Jew, Greek, slave, free, male and female are not ultimate categories. What is of ultimate importance is that they have all been caught up in the great, unifying power of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ.

For the Christian, the great unifying reality in life is not the principle of diversity. We celebrate, in the truest sense of the word, the unity we know in Christ. I will tolerate diversity but it is not something I will celebrate. I’ll save that for Jesus, in whose glorious name people among every race and nation are reconciled in the authentic unity of God’s gracious love.

 _

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

_

Mark 1:35

_

“And early in the morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there.”

_

The photo above was taken this morning off our balcony here at Tenaya Lodge, just a few miles outside of Yosemite National Park. It’s quiet here. The atmosphere invites solitude, rest and reflection, dimensions of living that can be hard to come by.

Being here reminds me of a trip Linda and I were on several years ago that included part of a day along the Sea of Galilee. It looks much as it did when Jesus and His disciples lived along its quiet shores. And it is not hard to understand why the Lord made that remote, tranquil place His home, His resting point.

The life of faith is lived in a world of conflict, tension and struggle – much of which militates against the faith itself. Our Lord knew that battle and those who belong to Him know it too. So, at regular intervals, Jesus withdrew to places of solitude where prayer and rest were His only work.

Disconnecting from daily life does not require a long trip to a remote place. We can all find space and quiet places that are near at hand. A few moments with the Scriptures, in quiet contemplation, can center us again in God’s promises, clear the clutter from our distracted lives, and refresh us in that peace that world neither knows nor can give.

 _

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

_

Romans 7:15

_

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

_

The language that St. Paul uses here in Romans 7 describes the gap between what someone once called “The is and the ought”. Paul writes from that gap. It is where we all find ourselves. But how do we deal with it?

Some ignore the gap and resolve themselves into their desires and impulses, letting what is simply be what is. In the 1960’s they put it this way, ‘If it feels good, do it’.

Others are driven by the gap to take a higher road and recognize that some form of ethical and moral effort are necessary. The struggle to be fully human must progress beyond the level of animal impulse.

Humor is another response. Laughing at the gap is sometimes the best that we can do.

Then there are those who are consumed by the gap. Those for whom the tensions between what is and what ought to be are too much. They fall into despair, cynicism, even madness.

Whatever approach we take to the gap, ignoring it, battling it, laughing at it or allowing it to overwhelm, the outcome remains the same. The gap is never closed. We remain caught in the tension between “the is and the ought”.

It is surprising, then, to know that even as he laments life in the gap, Paul does so as one for whom the gap has been closed! The yawning chasm between his humanity and its fulfillment was crossed at the cross. Only the forgiveness of God in Christ is strong enough, enduring enough to close the gap between what we are and what we ought to be.

We are not yet what we will be and we share this burden with the apostle. But we do not sing in a minor key. Even our laments ring with joyous hope as we look forward to that Day when the gap between “the is and the ought” will, in every way, be closed, and God’s great work of reconciliation in Jesus Christ will be complete.

 _

 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

_

Matthew 18:21-22

 

_

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

_

Two adult sisters lived together in a somewhat contentious relationship. Finally, one of the sisters hurt the other quite deeply and she was asked to move out. The resulting rift kept them apart for some time. Finally, a friend who knew them both went to the sister who carried the grievance. “I have spoken to your sister”, she said, “and she is deeply sorry for hurting you and wants to move back in with you. I really think you should forgive her.” The offended sister thought for a few moments then replied, “Oh, all right. I’ll forgive her. But she’s no good, you know. And I have done nothing wrong. She’d better not hurt me again.”

Forgiveness is a delicate and dangerous tool. In the hands of someone who believes they really need no forgiveness, it can become a patronizing, condescending and begrudging instrument of manipulation and control. Many people practice this kind of forgiveness. Maybe you have done so. Actually, it can hardly be called fogiveness at all. And it is certainly not the kind of forgievness we speak of where God is concerned.

There is one requirement for those who would truly forgive; they must see themselves as a forgiven one, with no claim to rights. When one of Jesus disciples asked Him if seven times was an adequate number of times to forgive, His reply was designed to expose that sense of being a forgiven one. Seventy times seven, was His reply. In other words, forgivers don’t keep track. Forgiven ones forgive. I have known people who are deeply offended by this. You may be.

We are all offenders against God. This is the great, overarching truth of the human condition. God has answered with the cross and the forgiveness that is in His Son. Those who stand in awe and gratitude under this forgiveness of God are truly in a position to forgive. Not as a magnanimous gesture of good will, but as an expression of sheer grace and mercy. The Christian forgives and forgets, not because it is easy but because we are the forgiven ones.

 _

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_

Proverbs 22:6

_

“Train a child in the way he should go…”

_

I attended my first opera when I was eight years old. The place was Honolulu, where my father served as an Air Force chaplain. The occasion was the opening night of Verdi’s ‘Aida’, a dramatic story set in ancient Egypt. The role of the pharaoh was played by my father. The sounds and images of that night seemed to transport me to the banks of the Nile. I remember it like it was yesterday.

In the years that followed I developed a growing interest in ancient Egypt and read everything I could find. By the time college came around, I majored in ancient history and gave serious thought to studying near eastern archaeology with the goal of digging in the sands of Egypt. The call to ministry set another course but my interest in Egypt has never faded. My dad could not have predicted that one night at the opera would nearly result in a vocation as an egyptologist. An opera lover, maybe. But an egyptologist?

As Christian parents we can never predict with any certainty how our lives may influence our children. But this much is certain; influence them we will. And when Christian worship, learning, witness and service are the shaping and defining pattern of their parents lives, we can know that these influences can only help to define and shape our children as they come to know and trust in the God who loves them in Jesus Christ.

 _

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

_

Matthew 10:30-31

 

 _

“What is the price of two sparrows–one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it…So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

_

It was a random shot inside a Hong Kong eatery. A few moments later Linda and I were seated next to him. His name was Feng, a computer programmer from Beijing who spoke good English. Feng ordered a sampling of dishes for us, assuring us we would be pleased (we were) and for a few minutes we enjoyed friendly conversation in what had been a room full of strangers.

You don’t have to travel far from home to find yourself in the nameless crowd. We pass by strangers every day. They give us no thought. We give no thought to them. I am always amazed at how people can stand in line at the grocery store, for example, within a foot or two of someone, and not have anything to say. This numbing indifference to others, in which we are all implicated, is part of living in a fearful world estranged from its Creator. It takes its toll on all of us.

A man once told me he hated to be in crowds. This was not because he suffered from agoraphobia but because he felt more alone in a crowd than anywhere else. In this he is not alone. Someone once observed that loneliness is the mass neurosis of the modern age. Not being noticed is a burden that many carry, even in the midst of the most intimate relationships.

To hear, as in the lesson for today, that God’s knowledge of me is intimate and total would be too much to bear were it not for Jesus. For the One who presses upon us the promise of His fearful nearness, is the same One who gave His life for us, who comes near in mercy, forgiveness and love in His Word and the sacraments. Jesus gave the promise in today’s lesson to His disciples as He prepared to send them into a hostile world. He wanted them to know that they would always be in the Father’s eye, on His mind and in His heart. He wants you to know that too.

 _

 “May the peace of God passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

_

Matthew 19:22

 

_

“He went away sorrowful, for he had many possessions.”

_

We are a materialistic society. Ownership, possession, acquisition, are givens for us. We are not unique, of course. We have simply elevated the possession of things and experiences to the level of a cosmic virtue. As a result we have created vast marketing enterprises to convince ourselves of our continuing deficiency. Just when you thought you had finally gotten hold of the big thing, the next big thing comes along. Neighbors cast a wary, envious glance at the new car in the driveway next door, the fear of inadequacy sets in and the planning for an even better car begins. You get the picture. You may be in it.

What lies at the heart of our insatiable need to have, to acquire? Fear. Fear of what other people think of us, fear of the future and our need to hedge ourselves against its uncertainties, fear of that emptiness into which many pour possessions and experiences, as if filling a void. But it doesn’t work. Take a good, long look at those you envy, those who reach the pinnacles of financial and material comfort. They imprison themselves within gated communities, squadrons of security guards, compounds and estates, fearing the loss of possessions, person and privacy. Self-reliance does nothing to eradicate fear. Fear simply changes its forms.

We all know the story. A wealthy young man asked Jesus what it would take to have eternal life. Jesus answer was short, simple and terrifying; Sell what you have and give the money to the poor, and follow me. The man walked away from Jesus, full of sorrow. The fear of giving up what he possessed paralyzed him with grief.

The meaning in Jesus story is clear: what we pride ourselves on, our self-reliance, is actually the great sin of unbelief – and that includes certain forms of free-will Christianity which is nothing more than self-reliance gone to church. For unbelief is not the refusal to give assent to certain doctrines, catechisms, or Biblical truths. Unbelief is nothing more than the refusal to count on God, to trust Him.

Confidence rooted in self-reliance, religious or otherwise, never shakes the fear that my efforts and willing may not deliver the goods. Confidence rooted in God’s promises results in a faith which moves with assurance through the day into God’s promised future, whether God delivers the goods or not. For reliance on God means reliance on His will, and not our own.

_

 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

_