Mark 13:24-37

Mark 13:24-37
 
Thirty-two years ago I was a walking visual aid for the season of Advent as I entered the 9th month of pregnancy with our first child. The situation brought home the focus of the traditional gospel readings for the First Sunday of Advent--that is, our inability to predict Christ's return at the end of time and our need to be ready. In Mark, Jesus says, "Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come." Along with the congregation I was serving, my husband and I did not know when the time would come for the birth of our child, but we were ready. The nursery had been wallpapered, the crib set up, a dresser filled with everything a baby would need.
Because we do not know when Christ will come, it is best to live prepared and ready: fearlessly, with kindness, forgiveness, compassion and generosity. Such lives will rejoice to receive our Lord as he comes to us now, as well as at the end of time.
 
As we rest in you, O God, keep us ready and prepared to meet you each day--as well as at the end. Our times are in your hands. Amen.
 
Rachel
 
Mark 13:24-37 (NRSV)
 
24 "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see "the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.
27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.
31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
35 Therefore, keep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,
36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Too Much of a Good Thing?
by Joni
 
"Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord."
2 Peter 1:2
My friend Judy makes the tastiest little chocolate eclairs of anyone I know. Once she threw a tea party in my home, laying out her nicest linens, china, and silver. My friends and I daintily picked up each little eclair, savoring every bite.
The first eclair was scrumptious. The second was just as good. By the time I got to the third, I just popped it in my mouth. Did I eat a fourth? I can't even remember. All I know is that several days later when I looked in the mirror and saw pimples on my chin, I sighed, "Yes, you can enjoy too much of a good thing."
Well, there is one good thing we can never get enough of. Grace and peace are ours in abundance in the Lord Jesus. You can never enjoy too much of the Lord. Some people may call you a fanatic and say that you are overdoing it, warning that "enough is enough." But don't listen. You can never pray too much, or read God's Word too often.
For instance, three years ago, I decided to shift into overdrive and read the Bible more in order to know Christ better. That meant doing double-duty during prayer time. It meant making an effort to change old habits, including TV at night. And you know what? I can't get enough of the Lord now. The closer I draw to Him, the more overstuffed I am on the abundance of His grace and peace. Yes, I've learned that contrary to popular opinion about chocolate eclairs... there are some things you simply can't get enough of.
I want to know you better, Lord, for I can never enjoy too much of the abundance of Your grace and peace.
 
Blessings,

Mark 13:24-37

Mark 13:24-37
 
The first ten years of my ministry were spent in small town and open-country congregations. Having grown up in an Iowa town of only 250 people, rural ministry was not the foreign experience for me that it sometimes is for pastors with urban or suburban upbringings. One of the best times of the year in the country, is when the first shoots of corn and soybeans become visible in the fields. On my way to work on cool May mornings I would search for spring-green rows poking through the soil, rows best glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. As with Jesus' example of the fig tree, "as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near," so when I could "row" the fields a week or two after planting, my heart lifted with the promise of new life.
 
When we are paying attention, every day reveals a glimpse of God's presence here with us. May we catch it, if only out of the corner of the eye.
 
So many things clamor for our attention, Gracious God. Teach us to look for you in the situations and people we encounter today. Amen.
 
Rachel
 
Mark 13:24-37 (NRSV)
 
24 "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see "the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.
27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.
31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
35 Therefore, keep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,
36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

Scaling the High Bar

Scaling the High Bar
by Joni
 
"A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross."
Mark 15:21
I once read that criminals to be crucified often had to carry to the place of crucifixion their own cross beam, a piece of wood weighing up to fifty pounds. Jesus started out by shouldering His cross, but He had been so weakened from floggings that a passerby named Simon was pressed into service.
It's interesting to note that Simon was only passing by and that he was forced to carry the cross of Christ. I like to imagine, however, the relief Jesus must have felt -- after having helped so many others in so many ways, here was a man to help Him!
Often you'll hear hurting and overburdened people say, "This is the cross I must bear." These dear people need burden bearers. They need help and, in a way, their unspoken plea may be, "Where is my Simon?"
But who will help? Like Simon, you may see yourself as an innocent passerby being forced into service -- helping an aunt recover from a stroke -- assisting a neighbor who just got out of the hospital -- lending a hand to a co-worker who recently was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
And like Simon, the task may take you unaware, your plans may be interrupted, and you may feel put-upon. But as you carry the burden of a hurting friend or family member, you may discover that your attitude will change -- especially when you see that smile of relief and gratitude. You'll discover the privilege of being someone's Simon.
What a privilege it was for Simon to carry Your cross, Lord. In a way, I have the same privilege as I bear the burdens and carry the hurts of Your body, my brothers and sisters in Christ. Let me be a Simon to someone today.
Blessings,

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

1 Corinthians 1:3-9
 
Once Thanksgiving Day activities are over, the pressure is on to have the most perfect and prosperous Christmas ever. Merchants use every available avenue of communication to convince us that our Christmas celebrations will be lacking unless we have this product or that gadget. Images of everything from perfect skin to perfect dचcor are displayed to show us our lack, and many individuals go deep into debt to achieve that unachievable perfection.
However, the opening verses of Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth remind us that we lack nothing. As God's imperfect, yet beloved children, we have already received the grace and peace of God. We have been enriched by the presence of Christ and strengthened in Christ until the end of time. And we know and can live in confidence that God is faithful. It is clear, Paul writes, that "you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ." Called to remember the depth of God's mercy for us, we breathe a prayer of thanks.
 
Loving God, we live and move and have our being in you. So fill our hearts with an awareness of your love so that we live each day with grateful hearts. Amen.
 
 
1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (NRSV)
 
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,
5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind--
6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you--
7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Scaling the High Bar

Scaling the High Bar
by Joni
 
"It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable...and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him."
1 Thessalonians 4:3-6
God telling me that I should be holy is like His telling me to scale the high jump at a track meet. But wait. Who's that in front of the high bar? Could it be? Yes, it's the Lord. And He's there to give me a knee up.
 
In fact, Jesus even helps me pace myself as I take a run at the jump. The first step is to "avoid sexual immorality." That means "just say no." Turn on the keys to the ignition and leave. Hang up the phone. Turn off the TV. Cancel the subscription. Having taken this first step, I'm closer to the high bar.
Second, "Control [your] own body in a way that is holy and honorable." In other words, value your body. Call the media a liar when it sells beauty cheap. God did not create body parts. He created you.
Third, "No one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him." Don't be a fake. Don't entice others. Be honest with yourself. Admit that you can't handle temptation.
Lo and behold, you are up and over the high bar of holy living, all because you paced yourself with Jesus at your side. Don't think that God's will for you to be holy is too high a standard. He's provided graceful steps for you to get a good running start. Now all you have to do is take them.
Lord, take me now to the level of excellence that You desire for me. Lift me up. Encourage and empower me to take these small but important steps of obedience in order to more easily scale Your high standards.
Blessings,

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
 
We have a Sunday School Advent Program in our congregation, which ends with the the Christmas story on Christmas Eve. One year the program featured the Prayers of the Day for each of the Sundays of Advent. They all begin with the words, "Stir up," from verse 2b of Psalm 80: "Stir up your might, and come to save us."
As the program began I noticed Angie, age seven, sitting at the end of a pew with a big serving spoon in her hands. I caught her eye. She giggled. It turned out that there were four children with big spoons scattered through the crowd to announce each section of the program by standing on the pew, brandishing the spoon over their heads and shouting the first line of one of the prayers: "Stir up your power...Stir up our hearts...Stir up the wills...Stir up your power."
The honesty of the first week of Advent continues. We cannot save ourselves. God's power saves. "Stir up your might, and come to save us."
 
Stir up our hearts, gracious God, that we may be signs of your love in this weary world. Amen.
 
Rachel
 
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 (NRSV)
 
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!
3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
4 O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6 You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved...
17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved

The Major Problem with Minor Sins

The Major Problem with Minor Sins
by Joni
"No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him."
1 John 3:6
Sin becomes a crime, not against law but against love; it means not breaking God's law so much as not breaking God's heart.*
-William Barclay
What hurts me most about sin is not that it breaks God's law but that it breaks His heart. Sin is not weakness or a disease. Sin is a mockery of His mercy and a disdain of His love. Sin grieves God.
That's why our battle against even minor sins is always major. Our sin is an offense to God. The battle may mean putting a lid on backbiting gossip. No more flirting with your best friend's spouse. No more saying one thing to your Christian friends and quite another to your co-workers on the job. It may mean tackling subtle sins -- curbing your appetite, reining in your daydreams, and ceasing to make copies of disks that say, "Unauthorized reproduction prohibited."
Does tackling small sins seem too minor? If so, remember that any sin is a choice to fellowship with the Devil. That's why once the Spirit convicts you of some sin...the minor becomes major.
Lord Jesus, I want to delight You. I no longer desire to give my sin a smooth-sounding name and I turn from doing things that displease You. Give me power to obey.
Blessings,

Isaiah 64:1-9

Isaiah 64:1-9
If we compare the opening words of the first readings for the First Sunday of Advent across the three-years of the Revised Common Lectionary, there are none as searing as these: "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down...!" In fact, these words could serve as a refrain to a litany of the world's struggles in our day. As we consider the ravages of earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, mass shootings--as well as the hostility between races and religions--we become painfully aware of our helplessness to mend the fabric of this world by our own efforts and strength. In response, these ancient words can become the cry of our hearts, "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down...!"
First words are important, and with these first words we confess that we, like ancient Israel, have failed in faithfulness to God. We cannot by our strength save ourselves and our world; so come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.
 
Great and gracious God, ours is a world in need of your saving love. Come, we pray, with healing, hope and peace. Amen.
 
 
Isaiah 64:1-9 (NRSV)
 
1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence--
2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.
5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.
6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

“The King of Love My Shepherd Is,”

"The King of Love My Shepherd Is," ELW 502
 
The King of love my shepherd is,
whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
and he is mine forever.
 
Where streams of living water flow,
my ransomed soul he leadeth
and, where the verdant pastures grow,
with food celestial feedeth.
 
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
but yet in love he sought me,
and on his shoulder gently laid,
and home, rejoicing, brought me.
 
In death's dark vale I fear no ill,
with thee, dear Lord, beside me,
thy rod and staff my comfort still;
thy cross before to guide me.
 
Thou spreadst a table in my sight;
thine unction grace bestoweth;
and, oh, what transport of delight
from thy pure chalice floweth!
 
And so, through all the length of days,
thy goodness faileth never.
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
within thy house forever.
 
As we gather for worship on this Reign of Christ Sunday, we do so trusting in the God who promises to meet us in the word, water, wheat and wine. By the grace of God, the sacraments of Holy Communion and Holy Baptism will be front and center for the body of Christ gathered anew today. What a gift! For when all our words and images and metaphors fall short of describing God, we are invited to taste and see Christ's feast-word and splash about in the Spirit's water-word.
 
Perhaps that is why Henry W. Baker punctuated his paraphrase of Psalm 23 with sacramental imagery. "Streams of living water flow" (vs. 2), "food celestial" (vs. 2), "spreadest a table" (vs. 5) and "pure chalice floweth" (vs. 5) all point to our shepherd-king who feeds us in mercy and washes us in love. This is all done for our sake and for the sake of world. May we bear God's reign of mercy and love in the world until the final consummation of all things in Christ Jesus, our saving grace.
 
We sing our prayer: "And so, through all the length of days, thy goodness faileth never. Good Shepherd, may we sing thy praise within thy house forever."
The holy Trinity sings back to us, "Amen! Let it be so!"