Psalm 95:1-7a

Psalm 95:1-7a
 
Modern day philosopher Paul Ricoeur wrote how metaphors, and specifically biblical metaphors, create a network of relationships building off one another and thereby creating new meanings. In Psalm 95, three metaphors for God are networking together to enable the hearers of the text to envision new possibilities of re-describing our relationship with God. Here, the psalmist names God as rock, king and shepherd--by extension of verse 7 where "we are the people of God's pasture."
Though the patristic and hierarchical language of "king" may be problematic, its relationship to the other metaphors in the text might provide a network that speaks anew. A king who is both a "rock of salvation" as well as a shepherd who holds us as "the sheep in one's hand" is reliable, gentle, firm, nurturing, caring, steady and tenderly powerful. When these metaphors collide, even our inadequate language about God can open us to sing a new song, a joyful noise unto our rock/king/shepherd God!
 
We pray: "God, our river of life, our place of wisdom, our shepherdess of love: when our language fails us in describing your majesty and glory, you still meet our imperfect words and inconsistent worship with your very self."
And God responds: "Make a joyful noise! Come into my presence with thanksgiving." Amen.
 
 
Psalm 95:1-7a (NRSV)
 
1 O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3 For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
6 O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

Be Thankful

Be Thankful
by Joni
 
"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."
Romans 1:20-21
What child hasn't been told a thousand times, "Now, be sure to say thank you"? It's part of good training. More than common courtesy, expressing gratitude is critical to the development of a child's character.
I painfully learned that lesson when, as a little girl, I failed to say "thank you" to Aunt Kitty after she gave me (under my mother's watchful eye) a charm for my bracelet. The next day I was on the telephone, rubbing my sore backside and apologizing, "Aunt Kitty, you will never know how grateful I really am."
It's an old story: Ingratitude carries serious penalties. Probably the oldest story is out of Romans chapter 1. It says that although men knew God, they failed to give Him thanks. And you know what happened next. God seriously punished them for their thankless hearts.
That should say something to you and me; because if a thankless spirit was the undoing of a generation long ago and far away, is it any different today? In fact, you know God far better than those to whom He revealed Himself through creation -- that means that you have even more to be thankful for!
Look around you. The blessings abound: The smiles of children, the beauty of a glorious sunset, the comfort of a warm bed at night. Small and great, there are plenty of reasons to say to God, "Thank you."
Lord, receive glory today through my thankful spirit. I am so grateful for who You are and what You've done. Show me more reasons today for which I can give You thanks.
Blessings,

Matthew 2:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12
 
An "aha moment" is when we do not realize that something very special or very surprising is about to take place, and when it does, we suddenly declare, "I didn't see that coming," or "I didn't know that was going to happen!"
 
Matthew tells the story of an exciting "aha-moment." When the wise men find the baby Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem, they fall to their knees and worship the baby Jesus. Even more than their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, what is special for them is the appearance (the epiphany) of the Star in the East--it would lead them to the infant Jesus and then beyond in faith to all that Jesus would accomplish in his life and ministry. As we worship the Christ child this Epiphany and beyond, we too can find a greater sense of what Jesus wants to do as he shows us the direction of his mission. He must move toward brutal rejection, toward dying on the cross, and to the ultimate victory of the resurrection. May we discover anew this year how Jesus through his Spirit yearns to deepen our love toward him so we can extend that love to other people who have never experienced finding the love, joy, and peace that only he can give.
 
Blessed Savior, in the manger of Bethlehem we find the peaceful Child born to give us new life. Because of your life, death, and resurrection, we find that new life coming to fulfillment in discovery of the new paths of life, love, joy, and peace made available only through the life you share with all who will reach out to you. Fill us with yourself so that those who see us may see you within each of us. Amen.
 
 
Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV)
 
1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,
2 asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."
3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;
4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 "And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.' "
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.
8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."
9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

In the Potter’s Hands

In the Potter's Hands
by Joni
 
"'Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message.' So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him."
Jeremiah 18:1-4
On November 19, 1991, Cathe Chermesino was running down South Street, trying to make it to Calvary Baptist School before the late bell rang. On the surface she had it all. She was a beautiful, talented thirteen-year-old who possessed YMCA swimming medals, not to mention a beautiful singing voice. When she ran across the street, she was hit by a fast-moving car and thrown into the air. Immediately Cathe became totally paralyzed.
Cathe now goes to school sitting rigid and upright in a bulky wheelchair. She breathes through a ventilator and has to carefully mouth her words so others can lip-read.
On the first anniversary of her accident, she gave her testimony at her church. "I'm like the potter's clay," she said. "I'm being reshaped into something that I believe will be far better. What looks harmful for me will actually turn out to be good. Before the accident I was an awful snob, but now God has given me an inner peace. I'm giving my voice a rest until I get to heaven."
Her mother looked lovingly at her daughter and added, "Cathe needs just two things to make it through. A lot of prayer and a little bit of oxygen."
Recently I wrote Cathe and gave her a verse from Deuteronomy 31:8, "The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."
Lord, if You can help Cathe to rise above her circumstances, I know that with Your grace I will rise above mine.
 
Blessings,

“My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less,”

"My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less," ELW 597

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
no merit of my own I claim,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.

Refrain
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
in ev'ry high and stormy gale
my anchor holds within the veil.  Refrain

His oath, his covenant, his blood
sustain me in the raging flood;
when all supports are washed away,
he then is all my hope and stay.  Refrain

When he shall come with trumpet sound,
oh, may I then in him be found,
clothed in his righteousness alone,
redeemed to stand before the throne!  Refrain

What do you hope for? I talk a lot about hope with church councils, call committees and other people who are trying to figure out what is in store for their congregation or ministry. In the midst of pressing concerns and uncertain directions, it seems that the hardest thing for so many of us is to build our hope on the promises of God through Jesus Christ. Perhaps, part of the reason is that it is so difficult to see that budgets and other administrative issues that belong to institutions are also issues of God's concern for how we live into the future with hope. If we let God into all our decision-making processes, our focus would be clearer and our work tuned to the working out of God's purposes.

God, who brings hope to the hopeless, help us to value our neighbors more than electric bills or lawn mowing. Help us balance our budgets with care for the stranger and love for all creation. Amen.

Matthew 25:14-30

Matthew 25:14-30
 
It is not easy to manage an unexpected gift. Have you noticed that many who come into a windfall of cash tend to squander most, if not all of it. On the other hand, life experiences have taught me that most who acquire means over a longer time normally have the gift of being good stewards, yet even the best will blow it sometimes. The key for both groups is to be able to realize that what they have been allowed to use is a trust. For such people, ownership is a word rarely used. In a culture that is often driven by the desire to have it all, maybe Jesus' words can call us again to recognize the extravagant gifts of God. To recognize that we have received God's gifts as a trust, and that in Christ we can be drawn and empowered to lives lived simply and responsibly in the joyful use of God's gifts for the sake of our neighbor.
 
All giving God, we rest in the assurance that you will not hold our selfishness against us. We pray we can overcome those urges and share freely with all in a common good. Amen.
 
 
Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)
 
14 "For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them;
15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.
17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents.
18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.
20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, "Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.'
21 His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'
22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, "Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.'
23 His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'
24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, "Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed;
25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.'
26 But his master replied, "You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?
27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.
28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.
29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In Whose Life Do You Live?

In Whose Life Do You Live?
by Joni

"Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me."
John 15:4

The university gymnasium is packed, and from the platform, I can see every student. The microphone works fine. I can see my notes. But something is wrong. I am only ten minutes into my message, but there's a restlessness in the air. The faces of the students in the front row hold blank expressions. They look as dull as I feel.

I realize that I sound hollow. More than that, I feel hollow. Even though I'm sharing powerful truths from God's Word, I know that my words lack energy. I'm separated from my message -- disconnected, out of gear. Before I embark on my next sentence, I breathe a silent prayer -- no more going through the motions.

Within minutes I can sense the difference between my effort and God's energy working through me. I feel relaxed, free. There is joy in my voice and the faces of the kids on the front row even begin to brighten.

Nothing is more mechanical than when we attempt to live a supernatural life apart from God. I've done it. You do it. When we live apart from Him, prayer becomes dull, witnessing becomes dry, and relationships sag under the weight of selfishness. Our jobs become routine, and even performing an act of kindness becomes an unpleasant duty. Our relationship to the Lord even becomes a chore.

In case you're feeling a little self-sufficient, remember that in Him you live, move, and have your being. Apart from Him you can't do a thing. So count yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ.

Lord Christ, You were raised from the dead through the glory of the Father that I, too, might live a new life. Forgive me when I go through the motions. Let me live through You today, always and only in Your power.

Blessings,

Matthew 25:14-30

Matthew 25:14-30
Jesus' teaching in these parables in Matthew's gospel invite us to think about what life in the kingdom of God looks like as we wait for Jesus to come again. In this particular parable, Jesus focuses on being a good steward of the gifts God has given us. Life would be much easier if being a good steward were simpler. We could be confident that we knew or were able to avoid actions that lead to outer darkness and gnashing of teeth. However, if that were the case, then Jesus wouldn't have had to die. Jesus, in telling this parable, calls us to lives of responsible stewardship that is not close-fisted, but openly corresponds to the generosity of God's gifts. The faithful steward knows that God's generous ways are beyond human comprehension, and so seeks to use God's gifts in ways that give honor to this faithful and generous giver.
 
Gracious God, your ways are not our ways, your heart is bigger and you forgive debts freely. Help us to understand and treat all of our neighbors with your justice. Amen.
 
 
Matthew 25:14-30 (NRSV)
 
14 "For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them;
15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents.
17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents.
18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.
20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, "Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.'
21 His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'
22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, "Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.'
23 His master said to him, "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'
24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, "Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed;
25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.'
26 But his master replied, "You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?
27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.
28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.
29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Psalm 68:28

"Strengthen, O God, that which thou hast wrought for us."
Psalm 68:28

It is our wisdom, as well as our necessity, to beseech God continually to strengthen that which he has wrought in us. It is because of their neglect in this, that many Christians may blame themselves for those trials and afflictions of spirit which arise from unbelief. It is true that Satan seeks to flood the fair garden of the heart and make it a scene of desolation, but it is also true that many Christians leave open the sluice-gates themselves, and let in the dreadful deluge through carelessness and want of prayer to their strong Helper. We often forget that the Author of our faith must be the Preserver of it also. The lamp which was burning in the temple was never allowed to go out, but it had to be daily replenished with fresh oil; in like manner, our faith can only live by being sustained with the oil of grace, and we can only obtain this from God himself. Foolish virgins we shall prove, if we do not secure the needed sustenance for our lamps. He who built the world upholds it, or it would fall in one tremendous crash; he who made us Christians must maintain us by his Spirit, or our ruin will be speedy and final. Let us, then, evening by evening, go to our Lord for the grace and strength we need. We have a strong argument to plead, for it is his own work of grace which we ask him to strengthen--"that which thou hast wrought for us." Think you he will fail to protect and sustain that? Only let your faith take hold of his strength, and all the powers of darkness, led on by the master fiend of hell, cannot cast a cloud or shadow over your joy and peace. Why faint when you may be strong? Why suffer defeat when you may conquer? Oh! take your wavering faith and drooping graces to him who can revive and replenish them, and earnestly pray, "Strengthen, O God, that which thou hast wrought for us."

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
 
Long before I studied Lutheran theology, or some of the stories from Luther's table talk, the "prophetic" dire predictions of impending doom upset me. They often had the character of fear tactics used by bullies to upset their hearers--and they were successful! John 9:4 reminds us to do the work we are given to do all day long and to live by faith, rather than in fear. In a similar way, Paul's letter to the Thessalonians seeks to calm their fears about what the future will bring. His words are filled with anticipation of Christ's return. Paul speaks of God's promise of salvation in Christ that fills us with joy, not fear. So too, we wait in active anticipation and tend to our neighbors' needs with joy in our hearts.
 
Dearest Father, calm our souls and give us patience to wait while doing justice in your world. Amen.
 
Rodger
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (NRSV)
 
1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you.
2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
3 When they say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!
4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief;
5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.
6 So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober;
7 for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night.
8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
9 For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.
11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.