Matthew 13:24-30

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24 Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the householder came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he said, ‘No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”

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The bridge between the 19th and 20th centuries carried a cargo of optimism. That age was defined by the widening influence of technological progress. Optimism for the fufure grew with each new scientific and technological development.  It was generally assumed that any advance in knowledge and capability was on the positive side. The sense was that progress along the whole line of human development would be inevitable.

In 1914 this optimism was put to the test. War was on the horizon. But the temper of the age looked at the propspect and hopefully declared that this would be The “War to End All Wars”. Large-scale human conflict would be put to rest. Democracy would be secure. Tyranny would be brought to an end. When the war ended, the optimism was still there.

By the 1930’s, however, the climate was sobering. The stock market crash of 1929  and the brutal dust bowl years demoralized millions. The war to end tyranny was revealed to be a cure as malignant as the disease. Stalin had replaced the czar. Mussolini ruled in Italy. Hitler was now the head of Germany. The war clouds were again gathering.

When the second world war ended on those atomic punctuation marks at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there was no talk of this being the war to end war. The nuclear spectre had arisen. Now the talk was of a possible third world war, a war that would last about two hours and bring world-wide catastrophe.

The props beneath our optimism and belief in progress are shaky at best. History is always in a state of crisis. You may not always sense it but it is there; evil against good, righteousness against unrighteousness, love against hate and indifference. 

Jesus parable reminds us this condition will persist;. The wheat and the weeds grow together and will do so until the Lord God brings in the harvest of history. This should caution us against an uncritical belief in progress. Things may actually get worse. At the same time, the children of God are put here to manage the enterprise of living. We dare not give in to pessimism or despair. For in the last analysis we are not driven by the inconsistencies and inequities of history or our lives. The bridge of hope spans each day. God has placed it there. And it is strong enough to carry us to His good and gracious future.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Luke 10:20

“However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

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There are many healing stories in the New Testament. They are stories about the collision of powers; the power of God and the power of evil. In fact, the entire Bible can be understood from this vantage point.  The story of Israel is one of perpetual struggle between faithfulness and idolatry. The Gospels, the epistles, all the books of the New Testament, were written by those who knew the clash of powers. Go look for yourself. The context is consistent throughout. 

The letters of Paul, again and again, speak to the clash of powers within congregations, Christian communities. He called it “spiritual warfare”. The Book of Acts begins with the story of Stephen, the martyr, whose body was crushed with stones. This story sets the crucial context for Luke’s history of the early mission of the Church. The Book of Revelation testifies to a world that will know continual conflict up to the very end. The Gospels tell of Jesus collison with Satan. Demons assail Him. Adversaries stalk Him, plotting His destruction. His disciples come into conflict with His purposes. Suffering and the cross are His fate.

Martin Luther, who knew his Bible, had no illusions whatsoever regarding the potency of the powers set against us. “Did we in our own strength confide” he wrote in his famous hymn, “our striving would be losing. Were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing.” 

If the conflict of powers is the context of the Bible’s story, the defeat of those powers is the great theme. The healing stories, therefore, reveal the triumph of wholeness and life over the powers of destruction and death. In Jesus, the Holy Spirit was reshaping lives; demons were sent reeling, twisted bodies were made whole, those utterly destroyed by the power of death were raised.  

What Jesus did, He still does. The power is not gone. The vast array of God’s arsenal of grace continues to be deployed in the conflict on behalf of healing and wholeness. Through Christ we are “more than conquerors”.

At the same time, when we think of healing it is easy to overlook a critical point. It is not finally for the healing of bodies or the destruction of evil per-say, that Christ came. The intent of God’s healing presence is displayed with no greater power than when the conflicted, sin-sick human heart is reconciled to God through a living faith in Jesus Christ; when we can rejoice that our names are written in the book of heaven.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Romans 12:6

 

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 “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them.”

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The photo above was taken in our garage, about half of which is devoted to my shop – which serves, among other things, as an expression of my very supportive and understanding wife! The tools there were chosen for woodworking. This is their purpose. And as I have become more familiar with them, and used them, my skill and capabilities have increased.

Jesus did not send His disciples into the world unequipped for the life into which He had called them. The Lord prepared His disciples for His departure by promising to send them the Holy Spirit. Left to themselves, the success of the mission was doomed from the start. Once the tools, the gifts of the Spirit, were in their hands, the fun really started. Nothing could stop them.

In his letter to the Romans Paul writes, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them.” The tools placed in our hands are the designs of God’s grace. Their purpose is to fashion a particular kind of living. Paul is reminding the Church that the Christian life is no abstraction. We are instruments of God’s work, dedicated to those things which shape life according to God’s good and gracious purposes. 

Every so often I take inventory of my shop, replace what is needed and make sure my tools are working properly. I like to think of the Christian life in a similar way. Our inventory of tools, given in baptism, include, “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self control.”  These are among the most important instruments of the Holy Spirit  for which our life’s energies and resources have been given.

This is in no way to imply that salvation somehow depends on us, on what we do. We are utterly dependent on Christ. Salvation is His gift, apart from how well or badly we use His gifts. It is His work, after all, that is being done through us.

So, Christian, sharpen up those tools of the Spirit. Take hold of them. Have some fun!  Put them to use with the reckless freedom and joyful daring that is yours in the One who equips you with every gift by the strength of His Spirit!

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Romans 12:2

 

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

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A man was living in a foreign country where his company was doing business. The culture in which he found himself was corrupt and violent. Almost nothing could be done in business or in daily life without submitting to some form of criminality. The man refused to conform. Before long he was receiving threats. Eventually, the pressures against him became so great he was forced to take refuge in his country’s embassy.  From there he awaited the day when he could leave this criminal society and return home.

The scenario above, with some alteration, can also describe the place of the Christian in this world. We are sojourners, aliens in a foreign land. This image of the people of God is a central motif throughout the entire Bible. The ancient Israelites were set apart to be a people for God. Their very existence was a repudiation of pagan society in all its forms. The early Christians turned their backs on the worldly, sophisticated paganism of the Greco-Roman world, openly renouncing  immorality and idolatry. The Romans called them atheists and “enemies of life”.

Some currently fashionable expressions of the Christian faith look with condescension and disdain at this tendency to separate from the world. The purveyors of this “social gospel” want the Church to be preoccupied with the world and all its’ aches and pains. They see this as a corrective to what they have perceived as the Church’s traditional focus on the next life.

There have been times when monastic seclusion, when retreat from life, was the Christian ideal. I suppose this tenedency can be criticized, especially if an appreciation for what is being repudiated is lacking. This seems to be the case today, for many. God does not make us Christian in order that we become social workers. To be in Christ is to be drawn into the realm of God, to be transformed so that our lives are tuned to what is “holy and acceptable and perfect”, as we await a new heaven and a new earth.

As a Christian, I do hear Jesus call to service, His call to express my faith in love for my neighbor, to live now in the light of the promised land. At the same time it is for that  promised land that our lives are being prepared.  I want to serve Him now. But more than this, do I eagerly await – with no apology – my final journey home.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Corinthians 7:17

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“Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.”

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Life is a stewardship. We are caretakers and managers of a world and a life that did not derive from us. This understanding is basic to the Christian life but it does not come naturally. The parsimon of the self has a way of resolving even this fundamental role into terms that reflect self-interest. 

One way we see this is in equating talents or abilities with what we term the ‘call’ to Christian vocation.  If you are good at math, perhaps you would make a decent engineer or church treasurer. Or, if you are good with your hands you might make a good carpentar and serve on the property committee. This is what we might call the vocational guidance approach to ministry. Now, in many instances this can be a good guide and I am not deploring it but the call to Christian vocation involves something else.

Supposing a man has a real talent for robbing banks. He does not have a call to rob banks. A woman has a real talent for manipulating her way up the corporate ladder, crushing others in the process. She has no call to do this. Or a business leader uses his leadership skill to manipulate a church council to his advantage. He has no call to do this.

A classmate of mine in the seminary graduated summa-cum-laude from a major university. He was president of his class, had a four point grade average all four years, gave the graduation speech and received several scholarships to pretigious graduate schools. He knew what he wanted to do, then something happened. When he finished the seminary he answered a call to a very small congregation in the far north woods of Minnesota, far from the expectations he and others had for him.

There is an element of ‘ought’ to the call to Christian vocation, whether lay or pastor. In the end, it is not sufficient to equate Christian service with what I am good at within myself. This may be nothing more than self interest, however benignly, disguising itself in religion. I must also ask the question, ‘What ought I do?’

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John 1:17

 

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

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The columned portico in the background of the photo above is located in the Roman Forum. Six pairs of golden statues representing the principal Greek and Roman gods, male and female, were displayed in the large rectangular shrines behind the portico. It is called the ‘Portico of the Harmonious Gods’. Disharmonious may have been a better word.

The Greek and Roman myths depict gods who were capricious and unreliable. They might favor you or they might go against you. You could never be certain. They often fought among themselves and were known to take out their jealousies on unsuspecting humans. At least part of the role of ancient religion, therefore, was designed to keep the gods off your back!

Into this puzzle of ancient religions came the God of Israel with a covenant. Do this and you will be rewarded. Fail to do this and you will be punished. This covenant relationship spoke not to a world of capricious uncertainty but to a world of order. This was a great advance over the multitude of gods and godesses and religious cults… but it is not good enough.

Just suppose that were the end of the story where God is concerned, that He punishes and rewards and no more. That would mean that everyone would get what they deserve. No more and no less. That would be the law of justice. Justice has its important place in life. But those who think that justice will create a harmonious world are deluding themselves. The unrelenting application of justice results in two kinds of people; the proud and the despairing.

Blind to the truth of God, the ancients observed the capriciousness and injustice reflected in their own lives, and the world, and assumed that whatever gods may be must also share these characteristics.Through Moses and the prophets, God took the initiative and revealed to humanity that the universe is one of law, order and justice, giving us what we deserve.

In Jesus Christ, God has moved beyond  law and justice revealing that mercy, love and forgiveness, which lie most deeply in His heart, are His gifts to us, the undeserving.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Corinthians 4:16-18

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 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

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Years ago I was hiking in a dense forest. I left the trail to do some exploring but soon lost my way in a maze of trees. A nearby hill provided the proper perspective from which I was able to regain my bearings

The world is more than ready to invite you to keep focused on the tree and not the forest. And nothing can rob the Christian life of its’ joy faster than narrowing in on your problems, as if they are the defining reality in life.  St. Paul says differently. Look to what you cannot see. 

The outward person is subject to all kinds of wear and tear in this life. There is nothing unusual or exceptional about having all sorts of problems. This sets us up, of course, to believe that the sum total of life is to get about either avoiding or solving these problems. For many people this is, essentially, what life amounts to. But not for the Christian.

The Christian life is one of perpetual renewal. Each day, Christ Jesus brings us to the vantage point from which we may behold  the troubles of this life from the vast vista of His grace.

Earthly troubles will last only a little while, but the glory of heaven will endure forever. Do not concentrate on your earthly troubles as if they are greater than the One who is in you. They are not. But the unseen things do not only reside in the realm of hope. The Holy Spirit has been given to you. God Himself hovers over your life, turning everything to good, bringing life out of all those little deaths that preoccupy you so.

The world obsesses on its’ aches and pains, giving them too high a place. The Christian lives each day from the vantage point of the hilltop, mindful of the struggles, but held in that vision of the final victory that is ours through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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