Isaiah 45:1-7

Isaiah 45:1-7
 
Isaiah, chapters 44 and 45, contrasts the God of Jacob with the inadequacy and foolishness of those choosing to create false gods. Such idolatrous images are incapable of saving anyone. In contrast to such futile efforts, stand the saving actions revealed through the God of Jacob.
 
Isaiah portrays God as both architect and draftsman, the one who originates the design for the creation while also overseeing the details of its implementation. From the perspective of this implementation, even Cyrus becomes an important player in bringing the full intentions of the creator into being. These intentions include: establishing order out of chaos; bringing light out of darkness; pouring water onto thirsty land; providing streams for the land that is dry. With such rich imagery Isaiah weaves a poetic language in which God comes to meet us as well.
 
Dear God of Jacob, we acknowledge your greatness and pray that the intentions for your creation will serve as the blueprint for our lives always. Amen.
 
 
Isaiah 45:1-7 (NRSV)
 
1 Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him-- and the gates shall not be closed:
2 I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron,
3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.
5 I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me,
6 so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.
7 I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.

“In Christ There Is No East or West,”

"In Christ There Is No East or West," ELW 650

In Christ there is no east or west,
in him no south or north,
but one community of love
throughout the whole wide earth.

In Christ shall true hearts ev'rywhere
their high communion find;
his service is the golden cord
close binding humankind.

Join hands, disciples of the faith,
whate'er your race may be.
All children of the living God
are surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both east and west,
in him meet south and north;
all Christly souls are one in him
throughout the whole wide earth.

After worship one Sunday, my family went out to eat. My 16 year old daughter wanted to drive herself home while the rest of us went shopping. I told her to head east. I'm sure I said, "east!"

I received a call 45 minutes later from my lost daughter. I asked her if she went east or west on the interstate. "I don't know," she replied, "I didn't think it mattered." "Sweetie," I said, "In Christ there is no East or West, but on the interstate, there is."

She was right, though. At some point east does become west. If that interstate had circled the globe, wrapping it into one complete package, the directional labels wouldn't have mattered.

As Christ wraps us in the circle of his Holy Spirit, we become a complete package: the Body of Christ. May the circle ever widen until the only direction that matters is "Closer to Jesus."

Jesus Christ, we long for the day when all humanity can meet in you as one community of faith. Show us how we can stretch our hands out wide enough to reach and include all your beloved. Amen.

Jill

“When Peace Like a River,”

"When Peace Like a River," ELW 785
 
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll,
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
it is well, it is well with my soul.
 
Refrain
It is well (it is well)
with my soul, (with my soul,)
it is well, it is well with my soul.
 
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control,
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and has shed his own blood for my soul. Refrain
 
He lives--oh, the bliss of this glorious thought;
my sin, not in part, but the whole,
is nailed to his cross and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! Refrain
 
Lord, hasten the day when our faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll,
the trumpet shall sound and the Lord shall descend;
even so it is well with my soul. Refrain
 
In a few days my family will welcome an exchange student from Spain. All summer we have been adjusting our home to accommodate one more teenage girl. We've bought furniture, rearranged bedrooms and cleaned. I feel insecure because I suspect she comes from a wealthy family and we can't offer her the luxury she's used to. Just last week, when I thought we were mostly ready, our HVAC system erupted: no heat, no air conditioning and as a bonus, my kitchen light won't turn on. I have done everything in my control to make her arrival comfortable and now this? I. Give. Up.
 
In my helpless estate I remember something important. Luxury doesn't make a happy home, love does. Christ never promised me luxury, but I feel cherished in Christ's home. The very best I can offer our visitor is not our material possessions, but the love of Christ. Maybe that's the most important improvement I've made this week.
 
Lord, once again I find myself trying to control things that don't matter, focusing my energy on something other than you. Forgive me. Set me straight. It is well with my soul. Amen.
Jill

The Written Code

The Written Code
by Joni

"For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code."
Romans 7:5-6

Put off falsehood. Avoid all appearances of evil. Forgive seventy times seven. Flee from sexual immorality. Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth. Get rid of bitterness.

The longer the written code, the more oppressive the pressure to obey. A list like that seems tiring. Obtrusive. Burdensome. And the more you concentrate on the dos and don'ts, the more tempted you are to break the law. Like the mother who tells her child, "Don't go in that room," you can then be sure her child will, sooner or later, head for that room. As the verse says, sinful passions are aroused by the law.

Thank God, we have been released to serve the Lord in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. We serve Jesus; we don't serve a list of rules. This is exactly why we should stop using words like "victory" and "defeat" to describe our obedience. We are never defeated by this or that sin. Rather, we are obedient or disobedient to the Lord.

If you see obedience as merely a duty, it will quickly become a burden. The letter of the Word has no saving or sanctifying power--and human will, no matter how strenuous, cannot give that power. So look to Jesus and obey Him with glad, reckless joy.

Lord, although You don't give me rules, You give me Your love--may I return that love and obey You out of sheer joy.

Blessings,

The Written Code

The Written Code
by Joni

"For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code."
Romans 7:5-6

Put off falsehood. Avoid all appearances of evil. Forgive seventy times seven. Flee from sexual immorality. Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth. Get rid of bitterness.

The longer the written code, the more oppressive the pressure to obey. A list like that seems tiring. Obtrusive. Burdensome. And the more you concentrate on the dos and don'ts, the more tempted you are to break the law. Like the mother who tells her child, "Don't go in that room," you can then be sure her child will, sooner or later, head for that room. As the verse says, sinful passions are aroused by the law.

Thank God, we have been released to serve the Lord in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. We serve Jesus; we don't serve a list of rules. This is exactly why we should stop using words like "victory" and "defeat" to describe our obedience. We are never defeated by this or that sin. Rather, we are obedient or disobedient to the Lord.

If you see obedience as merely a duty, it will quickly become a burden. The letter of the Word has no saving or sanctifying power--and human will, no matter how strenuous, cannot give that power. So look to Jesus and obey Him with glad, reckless joy.

Lord, although You don't give me rules, You give me Your love--may I return that love and obey You out of sheer joy.

Blessings,

Matthew 22:1-14

Matthew 22:1-14
 
When celebrating a special event, we tend to invite those whom we know and love to join in our celebration. What happens, though, when those people let us down or (gasp!) get placed into a different cabin?
 
This summer, while visiting children from my church at Bible camp, I noticed this very thing happen. Many children went to camp with friends but sometimes those friends couldn't, or wouldn't, join them on certain activities like swimming, arts and crafts or games. What was the child to do without their friend? Just sit out and be sad? Happily, many children took the risk to reach out to somebody new.
 
Isn't this how we first met Jesus? When we were yet strangers to him, Jesus reached out to us. Today, in the name of Jesus, let's reach out to somebody new, invite them into our circle of belonging and in this way open up the Kingdom of Heaven.
 
Jesus, we celebrate and honor you when we love a stranger. Point us towards someone today who could use an invitation or a word from you through us. Amen.
 
Jill
Matthew 22:1-14 (NRSV)
 
1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying:
2 "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.
3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come.
4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, "Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.'
5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business,
6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.
7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.
8 Then he said to his slaves, "The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy.
9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.'
10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 "But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe,
12 and he said to him, "Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless.
13 Then the king said to the attendants, "Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
14 For many are called, but few are chosen."

Can Jesus Count on You?

Can Jesus Count on You?
by Joni

"We are going to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified."
Matthew 20:18-19

The dirt road to Jerusalem was bustling. Jesus and His disciples had to step into a ditch while a camel caravan shuffled past. A group of boys herded their goats. Women chattered and carried baskets of figs and olives.

Jesus and the disciples continued their trek up the road, yet no one noticed the Lord's strange, heavy tread. Finally, when they rounded the top of the hill and caught sight of the gleaming temple of Jerusalem, Jesus stopped. Peter, John, and the rest strolled a few yards ahead. Then they turned around. Something was wrong.

Jesus began to pour out His heart, telling them exactly what was about to happen to Him when He passed through the city gates. The disciples wondered what in the world He was talking about. But that's not all. They not only ignored the Lord's troubled words, they began arguing and jockeying for positions in the coming kingdom--two of them even dragged their mother into the dispute.

Perhaps the Lord had hoped to lean on His friends at such at time. Instead, He found a bunch of squabbling men who only half listened. He found no friendly words, no sympathetic ears.

Think of all the things friends share--heart-to-heart talks, the sacrifice of time, joys and sorrows. Jesus covers His side of friendship, but what about our side? What sort of friend does He have in you?

O Lord, it's easy for me to criticize the behavior of the disciples, but I am no better. Forgive me when I fail You, but thank You for being such a faithful friend to me.

Blessings,

Matthew 22:1-14

Matthew 22:1-14
Rचpondez, s'il vous plait. Several months ago my family received an invitation to a wedding. What fun, we thought! We signed right up. As the day neared, however, new concerns started pressing in, demanding our time. Even as we wrestled with competing commitments, we did not want to send the message to the couple that some other concern was more important than joining their celebration.
 
How often have we sent that very message to God? Each day God invites us to come into the divine presence. Yet, many days, we tell God that some other concern has taken priority and we fail to show up.
 
Not today! Today we are here in God's presence, receiving the bounty that God prepared for us, expecting us. Today, may we be even more aware of all the blessings that God wants to share with us as we celebrate God's Son.
 
Mighty King, how foolish that we would ever decline your invitation! Continue to invite us because we need to be with you, even when we forget our priorities--especially when we forget our priorities. Amen.
 
Jill
Matthew 22:1-14 (NRSV)
 
1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying:
2 "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.
3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come.
4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, "Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.'
5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business,
6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them.
7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.
8 Then he said to his slaves, "The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy.
9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.'
10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 "But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe,
12 and he said to him, "Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?' And he was speechless.
13 Then the king said to the attendants, "Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
14 For many are called, but few are chosen."

Peculiar People

Peculiar People
by Joni
 
"...Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good."
Titus 2:13-14
Down against the southern edge of Pennsylvania sits the little hamlet of Honey Brook. It's Amish country. Schoolboys in black hats walk along the roadside. Girls in starched hats and aprons sit on milk cans at the end of a farm lane.
My Christian friends, Amos and Hannah Stoltzfus, and their many children, had invited a group of us to their home for dinner. We drove to their farm, following the country road that wound through rows of corn. We passed a white dairy barn, a buggy shed, and then stopped at the back door of their farmhouse. Amos and Hannah welcomed us in out of the cool, fall night into their cozy kitchen.
After a delicious Pennsylvania Dutch dinner, the family pushed back the table and brought out benches for a hymn-sing. Sitting straight-backed, hands on knees, and facing each other, the Amish folks and a few of their Mennonite friends launched into a rich and rigid harmony on a couple of old German hymns. What a glorious night of fellowship!
As we left their farm that night, I realized that we had everything in common with our Amish friends. How people dress, the way they talk, or the fact that they drive a horse and buggy instead of a car, doesn't matter. What counts among friends is the heartfelt hospitality, the smiles, the singing of a hymn that warms the spirit, and the dear embrace from a brother in Jesus who really means it. The Amish are called the "peculiar people" from the King James version of Titus 2:14--oh, if only the rest of us were so peculiar!
Help me, Lord, to be one of Your peculiar people zealous of good works.
Blessings,

Philippians 4:1-9

Philippians 4:1-9
 
Sometimes when we fight for what's right we lose sight of the bigger goal. I like to think that Euodia and Syntyche were arguing over how best to serve the Lord. Maybe they were concerned about efficiency, efficacy or egality.
As a mother of three daughters, I understand how passionate an argument can get, especially among people who are close. Often the most intense arguments are over nuances. Peace returns when we can agree that multiple points can be valid, true and even righteous.
 
Even when we don't understand each other, Christ Jesus is still present and working in all of us. As the church, our primary goal is not to be right, but to spread the love of Jesus.
Today, whatever discord we witness between people, let's look for signs of excellence and purity and whatever is worthy of praise. When we see those things, we see Jesus.
 
Creator God, in our differences, we see a fuller picture of you. Help us to appreciate our differences and harness their energy for greater effectiveness in sharing your good news. Amen.
 
Jill
Philippians 4:1-9 (NRSV)
 
1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.
3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.