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Called

June 24, 2019

“And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.  And it was so, when Elijah heard it, . . .he went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:12-13, KJV).

About three and a half years ago during my early morning Advent devotions I was moved to write a weekly blog based on the lectionary—the weekly Scripture texts set aside to be read in churches across Christendom.  Our daughter had set up my website in 2011 and I had written a few blogs on seasonal topics for a couple of years, but that project ended unceremoniously when my home computer crashed.

I had been moved to write on the lectionary several times before, between 2013 and 2015, but with my full-time job, family responsibilities, and church related commitments I didn’t have time.  In the past, my answer to the call had been, “Really??!! You’ve got to be kidding!  I do not have the time to do this.”

But when God planted the idea in me for the third or fourth time again in early December 2015, I resignedly answered: “Ok, God.  I can’t possible conceive that I can write 52 blogs every year—so you are going to have to help me big time.  This is your project. If you really want me to do this, you will have to give me the words.”  And with that, I embarked upon writing a weekly blog based on the lectionary.   I was right about one thing:  that I could not do it by myself.  Many times I have read through the Scripture texts, meditated on them, and have come up with a blank on how to tie them together into one cohesive statement.  But God has come through and has been with me every step of the way.  As I reflect on my journey over the past several years, I have concluded that he knew that I would demur the first few times he asked.  He gave me the time I needed to clear my calendar, purchase a new computer, and accept that I would need to give up most of my leisure time.

God meets us where we are when he taps us on the shoulder.  And he expects us to answer the call within a reasonable time frame and within the orbit of our lives.  We can echo David’s words: “I say to the Lord,You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing’” (Psalm 16: 2).  We do not answer God’s call from a sense of obligation, but because his love overwhelms us.  God is the source of all of our blessings. Everything good in our lives is a gift from God.  He will not steer you in the wrong direction.  He knows what you can handle, and he will equip you with what you need.

This week’s Gospel text describes two people who turned down a call from Jesus.[1] But the incidents recorded in this week’s Old Testament reading are examples of people who immediately answered the call without hesitation.

In the Gospel text, Luke describes two incidents involving calls by Jesus to followers to join his group of disciples.  The first gave the excuse of having to bury his father.  Jesus does not want us to renege on our responsibilities to our families, but on the other hand, using them as an excuse doesn’t cut it either. Some scholars think that the man’s father may have been elderly, and that the son wanted to wait until his father died before taking off with Jesus (Luke 9: 59-60).  Did the man really want to follow Jesus?  Did his father need his help? Could he have made other arrangements?  Most of Jesus’ ministry was centered in a very small area around the northwestern part of the Sea of Galilee.  The man wouldn’t have been very far away at any time.  We can always find excuses not to answer Jesus’ call.  I know because I have done it.

The other man mentioned in the Gospel text also used his family as an excuse.  He wanted to go back and say good-bye.  But could he have sent word through someone else? Was there another alternative?  Jesus knew his heart.  At one time or another, we have all rationalized why we can’t answer God’s call.  It does require a commitment.  And make no mistake–following Jesus will require sacrifices.  We may need to give up hobbies, outside activities, cut back on work, and give up some of our leisure time to answer the call.

But not every idea that is planted in us is from God.  We should carefully analyze whether the call is in keeping with Scripture and whether it is contrary to any of God’s teachings.  A call beckoning us to expend our time, energy, and other resources to garner attention, for self-promotion purposes, or to seek fame or fortune is not a call from God.

Elijah heard the “still small voice” of God and answered the call: “And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, ‘What doest thou here, Elijah?’” (1 Kings 19:12-13, KJV).  Elijah was totally exhausted after he defeated the prophets of Baal, but God gave Elijah instructions, which he followed to a T. One of those instructions was to anoint Elisha to succeed him as prophet.  Elisha was plowing his fields with his oxen when Elijah found him. Elijah put his cloak on Elisha as a symbol to show that he would become Elijah’s successor.

Elisha immediately accepted, and to show his firm commitment, he slaughtered his oxen, and burned his plowing equipment to cook the meat for the people: “He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.” (1 Kings 19:21).  In destroying the tools of his livelihood he figuratively burned his bridges behind him to show that his commitment to the cause of God was unequivocal and irrevocable.

Jesus calls each and every one of us to live out his truth daily during the course of our ordinary lives. That is our calling—our vocation as Christians.  We are called to live out our faith in our families, in our workplace, in our church, in our community, and in the world.  We are called to use the gifts he has given us for his glory.   We should not squander those gifts, but use them to spread the Word and to be his witness in the world.  The Spirit is with us every step of the way.  Listen for the “still small voice” of God as you spend time with him reading and meditating on the Word. Pay attention to the thoughts that he plants in you and the opportunities that come your way to serve.  And be open to the call.

Prayer: Lord, open our ears and our hearts so that we can hear your still small voice in the depths of our souls.  Continue to inspire us and to speak to us through your Word and in prayer during our lifelong faith journey.  Give us the desire and the means to answer your call.  Continue to walk with us as we seek to do your will. Amen.

Praying the Scriptures:  Choose a word or phrase each day from the following verses taken from Sunday’s Scripture texts to pray during the coming week:

And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12, KJV).

Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’” (Psalm 16:1-2).

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.  With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8).

You will show me the path that leads to life; your presence fills me with joy and brings me pleasure forever.“ (Psalm 16:11, GNT).

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  (Galatians 6: 9-10).

Jesus said to another, ‘Follow me.’” (Luke 9: 58b, The Message).

Jesus said, ‘No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.’” (Luke 9: 62, The Message).

[1]The Scripture texts for next Sunday are 1 Kings 19:9b-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62.

Pardoned!

June 17, 2019

But before the time for faith came, the Law kept us all locked up as prisoners until this coming faith could be revealed. And so the Law was in charge of us until Christ came, in order that we might then be put right with God through faith. Now that the time for faith is here, the Law is no longer in charge of us.” (Galatians 3:23-25, Good News Translation)

The law can be a confusing subject.  When I started law school we were required to take a course called Legal Process.  The course gave us an overview of various laws found in statutes and in case law, how they applied to different issues in our society, and how they were implemented.  That introductory course put the law into context for us.  The references to the law in the Bible are also a bit confusing. What is the law according to the Bible?  Didn’t Paul tell the church in Rome that the law still applies to us?[1]  Then why did he tell the Galatians that the law “is no longer in charge of us?” We need to put the Biblical references to the law into context.

The “law” as used in the Bible is an umbrella term that covers three kinds of laws: ceremonial law, civil law, and moral law.

The ceremonial law referred to various worship practices, such as animal sacrifice.

The civil laws in the Old Testament were rules that governed daily life—many of which are not applicable to modern society. For example, Moses stated that when a person makes a loan to another, he is not to go inside the person’s home to get the man’s pledge, but instead, should wait outside (Deut. 24: 10-11). This was a rule established by customs that do not apply to us today.

However, the moral law, the direct commands of God, such as those included in the Ten Commandments still apply to us today because they reveal God’s will for us. It is important that we obey and follow the will of God as revealed in the Bible.

In next Sunday’s epistle lesson, Paul explains that before Jesus was resurrected, we were prisoners of ceremonial law regarding worship; those laws pointed the way to Christ. But since Christ died for our sins, we are no longer subject to those ceremonial laws. We have been pardoned: “But before the time for faith came, the Law kept us all locked up as prisoners until this coming faith could be revealed. And so the Law was in charge of us until Christ came, in order that we might then be put right with God through faith. Now that the time for faith is here, the Law is no longer in charge of us” (Galatians 3:23-25).[2]  Christ set us free from those laws!

The moral law shows us our need for salvation.  It is a mirror of our true selves.  It shows us our sin.  Paul says that without the law he would not know how sinful he is: “What shall we say then?  Is the law sin?  Certainly not! Indeed, I would not have known what sin was except through the law”(Romans 7: 7).  The moral law shows us that because of our sin, we need the grace that God extends to us by forgiving our sins and promising that we will be with him forever.  We do not obey the law to obtain salvation, but instead, to live in a way that is pleasing to God. If I love God, I will want to obey and please him.

If we do not receive salvation by obeying God, by following the law, then how do we obtain salvation? We don’t.  There is nothing that you or I can do to secure our salvation. Jesus did that for us when he died on the cross for our sins. Our salvation was secured by God’s grace in sending his Son to die for us.  God’s grace secured our salvation.

We have been released from the ceremonial law, and our sins have been pardoned by the blood of Christ.  God’s blessing of salvation is available to everyone in all nations who believe that Christ died for his or her sins: “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I’” (Isaiah 65: 1). God sent his Spirit to help us through this life, and to keep us on the road that will lead us to our forever home when we step out into eternity.  When we put our trust in God, he will protect and deliver us to himself: “But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.  I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain . . . From the Lord comes deliverance” (Psalm 3:3-4, 8). But being delivered to God does not mean that we will escape all pain and suffering.  We still live in a fallen world.

Christ’s death and resurrection did not erase sin from the world.  And why not? Because God did not create us to be cookie-cutter automatons.  We are all unique individuals stamped in the image of God.  We are each given a free will.  Sin still has a hold on us.  The good news is that when we join the family of God, and deepen our relationship with him, we move closer to God during our faith journey, and he continually forgives our mess-ups when we ask for forgiveness.  Jesus releases us from our sin as he released the demons from the man on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. “The demons [who possessed the man] begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs . . .” (Luke 8: 32-33) 

 We are his children whom he has redeemed: God sent his Son “to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” (Galatians 4: 5-6).  God has done everything in his vast powers to bring us to him—short of removing our free will.  God will not force his love on us. Jesus didn’t force himself on anyone: “Then all the people . . . asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left” (Luke 8: 37). Forced love is an oxymoron.  Forced love is not love; it is subjugation.  We are not God’s subjects.  We are his precious children whom he dearly loves and for whom he sent his Son to die for our sins.  He knew that we would sin, but he sacrificed his Son to pay for our sins. He pardoned us!

We are free from the tyranny of sin. We have been set free, like the demon-possessed man.  The chains have been loosed, the bonds cut—we are free.

What does a pardoned person do? She delights in her newfound freedom.  And she shares the good news of her pardon with others! Go and do likewise.

Prayer:   Father, we thank you for adopting us into your family—for making us your sons and daughters.  Thank you for giving us the moral law, and for sending your Son to set us free from the ceremonial law.  We are grateful for the free will you have blessed us with, but it gets us into trouble daily.  Thank you for pardoning us, and for the promise of spending eternity with you. Amen

Praying the Scriptures:  Choose a word or phrase each day from the following verses taken from Sunday’s Scripture texts to pray during the coming week:

I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’” (Isaiah 65:1)

“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.  I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. (Psalm 3: 3,4)

God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, . . .” (Galatians 4: 4-6).

So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”  (Galatians 4: 7).

“‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” (Luke 8: 39).

[1] See Romans 7:7.

[2]The Scripture text for next Sunday are Isaiah 65: 1-9; Psalm 3; Galatians 3: 23-4: 7; Luke 8: 26-39.

The Great I Am

June 10, 2019

’Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” (John 8:58)

The following quote was taken from the kitchen wall of Saint Benedict’s Monastery:[1] “I was regretting the past and fearing the future.  Suddenly, God was speaking, ‘My name is I am.’  I waited.  God continued, ‘When you live in the past, with its mistakes and regrets, it is hard.  I am not there. My name is not I was.  When you live in the future, with its problems and fears, it is hard. I am not there.  My name is not I will be. When you live in this moment, it is not hard. I am here. My name is I am.’”

God is beyond time and space: “I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be” (Proverbs 8:23).  We are not beyond time and space.  God knows everything that has happened, and everything that will happen.  We do not.  One of the hardest things to do in life is to live in the moment.  We are filled with regrets about the past and concerns for the future.  But God comes to us in the moment. He is with us now.  He is the Great I Am!  God wants us to live in the moment, with him.  That’s why he keeps the curtain closed on our future.  He shields us from the future, and he has forgiven us for past mistakes.

As we noted last week, God sent his Spirit to be with us every day.  For those who believe and make space in their hearts for God, he lives within us, and the more time we spend with him, the more space he takes up in our hearts.  In his sermon to those gathered on that Pentecost when God sent the Spirit to the people, Peter explained what had just happened: “These people are not drunk as you suppose.  It’s only nine in the morning!  No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people’” (Acts 2: 15-17a).[2]

Next Sunday is Trinity Sunday, when we reaffirm our belief in the Triune God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The people had prayed to God the Father their entire lives.  And Peter reminded them that they had met Jesus, God the Son: “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know . . . This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan . . . and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death . . . (Acts 2: 22-24).

So they knew God the Father, and had met Jesus–God the Son.  On Pentecost 32 AD, they met God the Spirit. The Spirit made a dramatic entrance: He enabled all of the people from different parts of the world, who spoke different languages, to understand each other!  It was such a phenomenon that some thought that they were drunk and babbling gibberish.  Peter sets them straight.  He explained that they had just met God, the Spirit: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2: 32-33).  In these two verses, Peter refers to the three separate parts of the Trinity.

The Spirit is the part of the Trinity that God sent to be with us.  Jesus called the Spirit the paraclete, from the Greek word parakletos, which means to call to one’s side.  The Spirit comes alongside us to instruct, school, teach, and show us the way.  Jesus told the disciples that the Spirit will guide them, speak the truth to them, and will make known to them the glory of God (John 16: 12-14).  Solomon refers to God’s wisdom: “Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? . . . To you, O people, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind” (Proverbs 8: 1, 4).  When God sent the Spirit on Pentecost, he sent the voice of wisdom, who calls out to us.

John reported that Jesus confirmed his existence before the beginning of time: “’Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” (John 8:58).  God is the Great I Am.  David extols the attributes of God: “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens . . . When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Excerpts, Psalm 8: 1-4).  Like David, I too am astounded that the Great I Am–the creator of the universe– cares about human beings.

But Scripture confirms on every page that God loves us dearly.  It is because he loves us that  he has not left us alone.  Do you leave your loved ones alone and without resources?   Of course not!  You help those you love to the best of your ability.  And because God loves us beyond our comprehension–he provided the Spirit to guide us to the path that he has laid out for us. He did not leave us alone to fend for ourselves.  He sent his Spirit to guide us, comfort us, and to help us.  The Spirit of truth and wisdom is here with us.  God is the Great I Am, not “I was,” and not “I will be.”  He is here with you and me.  Now.

Prayer: Lord, we know that you are with us now wherever we are.  We know that you are with us as we slug through difficult times, as we make our way through the messy challenges of our lives. You are with us to bring us peace—to set aside our worries and our fears.  Forgive our unbelief.  You caution us to take one day at a time.  You remind us  that you are with us during each moment of every day.  Help us stay focused in the present and to use the gifts and skills you have blessed us with to do your will.  Amen.

 Praying the Scriptures:  Choose a word or phrase each day from the following verses taken from Sunday’s Scripture texts to pray during the coming week:

Does not wisdom call out?  Does not understanding raise her voice? . . . ‘To you, O people, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind.’” (Proverbs 8:1,4).

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8: 1)

Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2: 22).

This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge;” (Acts 2:23).

But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2: 24)

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2: 32-33).

Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2: 36).

’Believe me,’ said Jesus, ‘I am who I am long before Abraham was anything.’” (John 8: 58).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] Jim Palmer, Ed., The Pocket Book of Prayers (2005), W Publishing Group, p. 125. The location of the monastery is not identified.

[2] The Scripture texts for Holy Trinity Sunday are Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; John 8:48-59.

I Can Do It Myself!

June 3, 2019

When the day of Pentecost came, all the believers were gathered together in one place. Suddenly there was a noise from the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting . . . They were all filled with the Holy Spirit . ..”   (Excerpts, Acts 2: 1-4).

How many times has a parent heard these words, “I can do it myself!”  I remember pushing my parents to allow me to do things that I probably wasn’t ready to do. When I was about eight years of age, I pleaded with them to let me stay home alone on a Saturday.  I thought that I was ready for the responsibility, because, after all—hadn’t I cared for my little brother since he was born? Hadn’t I proven my ability?  Didn’t my older brothers get to stay home alone?  Those were my arguments.  I must have been persuasive, because my parents finally relented with the proviso that I keep the door locked, and that I would go next door to our neighbors if I had a problem.  I had finished my morning chores, and was settling down to read, when all of a sudden, I saw and heard massive egg shells hitting the windows and door!  It made quite a racket! I was scared to death—too frightened to open the door. I later learned that the “egg shells” were large hailstones.   We had moved to Texas from Ohio a couple of years before, and we had not yet experienced a Texas-size hailstorm.  I learned two things that day: (1) being alone is not what its cracked up to be; and (2) we all need help.  It was an early lesson in humility.

I was reminded of this story when I read the Scripture lessons for next Sunday– Pentecost Sunday.[1] In the Old Testament lesson, the folks decided to make a name for themselves—they would build a tower that was unrivaled anywhere. They got so preoccupied with building the tower that they didn’t have the time or energy to think about God: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4b).   When God saw that their achievement caused them to forget him, he took them down a notch. Their language became confused, they couldn’t understand each other, and they scattered.  There are consequences to our pride and to thinking that we don’t need God, or anyone else.  We all need God and those he entrusts to help us.

Jesus understood that, and he did everything he could to comfort the disciples before he was crucified to assure them over and over that they would not be alone.  He promised that the Holy Spirit would come—their advocate, their helper, their comforter: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”  (John 14: 26-27). The disciples still didn’t fully understand what was to happen, but they knew that Jesus was the Messiah and that he could be trusted.  God hasn’t changed.  He is the same as he was yesterday, today, and will be tomorrow.  You can trust that.  When you believe in the resurrected Christ, you have a permanent helper, companion, and advocate who will always protect and guide you. You will never be alone. Being alone is not what its cracked up to be.

The helper came during the Pentecost festival.  The three main pilgrimage festivals celebrated in Jesus’ day were Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.  Passover remembers the exodus, Pentecost remembers the giving of the law, and Tabernacles remembers the years of wandering.  Observant Jews were not required to come to all three festivals, but many came to one of the festivals each year.  It was the reason why believers of so many different countries were gathered in one place on Pentecost in AD 32: “There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world .  . . Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs!” (Acts 2: 5, 9, The Message).

God sent the promised helper–the Holy Spirit—to the church on Pentecost: “When the day of Pentecost came, all the believers were gathered together in one place. Suddenly there was a noise from the sky, which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.  Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire, which spread out and touched each person there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit . ..”  (Acts 2: 1-4).  The racket they heard must have been similar to what I heard as an eight-year old in that violent hailstorm that pelted the door and windows.  Pentecost, AD 32 is the day the church was born under grace.  Its literary parallel was the birth of the church under the law in 1446 BC, when Moses delivered God’s law to the people.

We know from experience that God hears us when we turn to him.  We echo David’s plea: “Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief “ (Psalm 143:1). We know that Jesus prayed for us before we were born, and continues to pray for us (John 17:20).  Jesus told his disciples (and us) to turn to God: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me(John 14:1).  He promised to ask the Father to send another Counselor: “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth”(John 14: 15-17).

You can’t make it on your own.  You need God and you need other people.  There is a God-shaped vacuum in your heart just the right size for the Counselor.  The more you open up to him, the more space he will occupy in your life. You are never alone. Trust God. Do not be afraid, and turn to the Counselor.  Open your heart to the Counselor sent by God to help, guide, and comfort you.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, I open my heart to you today. I need you. Teach me, lead me, comfort me, help me, and rescue me. Come, Holy Spirit, Come.  Amen

Praying the Scriptures: Choose words or phrases from the following verses taken from Sunday’s Scripture texts to pray during each day of the coming week:

  • Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy” (Psalm 143:1);
  • Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you” (Psalm 143: 8);
  • Teach me to do your will, for you are my God” (Psalm 143:10);
  • I will pour out my Spirit on all people,” (Acts 2: 17);
  • And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21”);
  • The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14: 26);
  • Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14: 27)

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

 

 

 

[1]The Scripture texts for Pentecost Sunday are Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 143; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-31.

One in the Spirit

May 27, 2019

How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony! . . .  It is like the dew on Mount Hermon, falling on the hills of Zion.  That is where the Lord has promised his blessing—life that never ends.” (Psalm 133: 1, 3, Good News Translation)

A few days ago, Mammoth Mountain announced that it would be extending its ski and snowboard season into August this year. That has only happened twice before, in 2017 and in 1995.  The rainfall and snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range this year was good news for all of California, and especially for the Central Valley farmers who rely on a healthy snowpack to provide water for their crops and to restore groundwater levels that the drought of recent years has left depleted.  Water is necessary for all animal and plant life.  It gives us energy, it cleanses us, it refreshes us.

In Psalm 133, David extols the virtues of God’s people living and working together in harmony, comparing it to the refreshing water that falls on the foothills of Mount Hermon. The pilgrims who sang David’s psalm of ascent as they walked the 17 miles up from Jericho to Jerusalem were aware of the importance of water for all living things: “How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony! . . .  It is like the dew on Mount Hermon, falling on the hills of Zion.  That is where the Lord has promised his blessing—life that never ends” (Psalm 133: 1, 3, Good News Translation).[1]  The summit of Mount Hermon is on the border of current day Syria and Lebanon. It is the highest summit in the area.  Like the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the melting water from Mt. Hermon’s snowpack has fed springs at the base of the mountain and watered plant life below the snow line for centuries.

Water is a symbol of the unity of all the saints—of God’s people—because we are united with the Holy Spirit at our baptism.  The Holy Spirit lives in the hearts of believers.  We share that in common. God is the eternal fountain; he sent Jesus, as a spring of living water, to quench the thirst of a dying world. The Holy Spirit was also sent by the Father to minister, guide, and satisfy our deep-seated thirst or need for the things of God.  We receive the Holy Spirit at our baptism, when we are reborn in the Spirit.

The reading from Revelation emphasizes the healing quality of the water of life:  “The angel also showed me the river of the water of life, sparkling like crystal, and coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing down the middle of the city’s street. On each side of the river was the tree of life, which bears fruit twelve times a year, once each month; and its leaves are for the healing of the nations. Nothing that is under God’s curse will be found in the city” (Revelation 22: 1-3, Good News Translation).  When we are in heaven, we will again have access to the tree of life, which was forbidden to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

John quotes Jesus’ prayer for the unity of all members of the church and for all who would follow them: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17: 20-23).  It was a rough road, but through it all, the apostles remained true to the teachings of Jesus, and encouraged all in the early church to remain unified in purpose and faith.

The unity theme is continued in the reading from Acts. In the book of Acts, Luke recounts the acts of the apostles during the 30 years after Jesus ascended into heaven. The early church was established during those 30 years.  One of the first acts of the apostles was to appoint an apostle to replace Judas Iscariot, who had betrayed Jesus. One requirement for the replacement was someone who had been with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry, so that he had the full benefit of Jesus’ teaching.  The other requirement was that he was an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ (Acts 1: 21-22).[2] They understood the importance of unity among themselves. The apostles were unified in purpose and in method. They prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

God crafted each of us as a unique person, so we will not always agree on everything.  We can play the same song on different instruments in the orchestra. But it is important that Christians remain unified in the belief in the crucified Christ—the foundation of our faith—so that “the world will know that you [the Father] sent me [Jesus] and have loved them [you and me] even as you have loved me”  (John 17: 20-23).  Jesus prayed for the unity of believers so that the world may know that he was sent by the Father, and that every person who ever lived and who will live is loved by him.  He has given us all a second chance to trust and obey.

Working together as a unified body in Christ attracts people to us.  Jesus was winsome.  He attracted honest people to him because he spoke the truth and expressed his love for people by what he did for them—showing them hospitality, feeding them, healing them, praying for them, encouraging them, and loving them.  When we aren’t sure which path to take, our first recourse should be to express our love for others through our actions, and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. That is his job—to walk beside us, to guide us, to comfort us, to lead us. Let him do his job.

Begin working for harmony now in your family, in your workplace, in your church, in your community, in your nation.  It is a choice you can make.  It is easy to spot others’ deficiencies and to capitalize on them and to complain about them.  It is easy to play the part of the victim.  It is easy to disrupt and cause dissension.   It is difficult to resolve problems amicably.  It takes a much stronger and self-confident person to overlook differences and to try to work together in peace.  Are you up for the challenge?   Jesus prayed for you over two thousand years ago and continues to pray for you. Show your unity in the Spirit so that the world knows that God loves every creature and person that he made.

Prayer:   Starting this week, I am suggesting that you practice the ancient art of lectio divina, or praying the Scriptures. I’ve listed several verses/phrases that you can choose from to pray this week during each day, throughout the day, as you begin each new task, while waiting for an appointment or in line, or at any other time during the day or night.  I generally use one phrase for each day.  But sometimes it is hard to give up a verse and go onto the next. If that happens to you, hold onto the verse that has resonated so deeply with you until you are ready to move on to the next.

If you keep one verse or phrase with you for an entire day or two, it will become a part of you. Each time the verse comes to mind, repeat it a few times, and let it sink into the recesses of your soul, as you meditate on what God is saying to you, and how the Holy Spirit wants to use it to bless you and to provide insight and guidance to the challenges of your day.

You might want to start a list of each day’s lectios in a paper journal or in the notes app of your iphone or android, to ensure that you have it with you throughout the day.  The list also becomes a source of great comfort and assistance when you need to pull up a verse that has helped you so much in the past.

For a deeper understanding of lectio divina, see Father Luke’s article,  “Accepting the Embrace of God: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina”  at https://www.saintandrewsabbey.com/Lectio_Divina_s/267.htm

You can choose your own verses or use those listed below that were taken from this week’s Scripture texts to get you started:

  • Live together in harmony!(Psalm 133: 1).
  • Jesus’ prayer for you:I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one . . .(John 17:20).
  • Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17: 23b).
  • The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true.(Revelation 22:6)

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]The Scripture texts for the Seventh Sunday of Easter are Acts 1:12-26; Psalm 133; Revelation 22:1-6 (7-11); 12-20; John 17:20-26

[2]  A few years later Paul was accepted as an apostle because scholars believe that he was tutored by the resurrected Christ in the Arabian desert after his conversion on the road to Damascus.

Which Road?

May 20, 2019

They traveled through the region of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit did not let them preach the message in the province of Asia. When they reached the border of Mysia, they tried to go into the province of Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So they traveled right on through Mysia and went to Troas” (Acts 16: 6-8).

Thank goodness for Google Maps!  When I am in an unfamiliar area, I switch on the sound for Google Maps.  Ms. Google tells me to “stay to the left at the fork” and warns me ahead of time to watch for exits or streets, so that I always know what’s coming up.  But Ms. Google can’t guide us to the road that God wants us to take—and finding our way is sometimes tricky.  Much like the roads we take in life, the road described by John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress, was not a direct road.  It was filled with so many obstacles, turns and switchbacks that the pilgrim despaired of ever arriving at his destination. Paul McCartney’s words, “Lead me to your door, let me know the way”[1]also describe our plea to God to lead us to his door.   We plead for guidance using words similar to McCartney’s:  “Don’t leave me waiting here, lead me to your door.”

Fortunately, God provides some guidance.  While we can’t hear an audible voice, the Holy Spirit is with us to lead and guide us. Next Sunday’s Scripture texts not only confirm that, but also give us an example, and show us what we can expect to find when we reach our final destination.[2]

In John, Chapter 16, Jesus continues teaching his disciples and preparing them for what is to come. He is hours away from being arrested and crucified, and he is urgently preparing the disciples.  He warns them, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home . . . I have told you these things, so that you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16: 32-33).  He gave them many tools to cope with the coming chaos and agony that would befall them and tear their world apart.  Earlier, he had told them they would not be alone, that the Counselor will come, the Holy Spirit, who will “guide you in all truth” (John 16: 12).

In Sunday’s gospel lesson, John records that Jesus taught them that when he is no longer with them they can go directly to the Father, using his name, without using a priest as an intermediary: “When that day comes, you will not ask me for anything. I am telling you the truth: the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your happiness may be complete . . . When that day comes, you will ask him in my name; and I do not say that I will ask him on your behalf, for the Father himself loves you. He loves you because you love me and have believed that I came from God. I did come from the Father, and I came into the world; and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father” (John 16: 23, 24; 26-28 Good News Translation).

Paul gives us an example of how that works.  He started his second missionary journey on land instead of sea, and brought  Silas with him. They set out in Syria, following the Roman road through the Taurus Mountains, then headed northwest toward Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium.  But they discerned that the Holy Spirit did not want them to go into Asia, so they turned north. Following the further guidance of the Spirit, they turned west and went to the seaside town of Troas.  It was in Troas where Paul met Dr. Luke.  Paul was probably seeking his help with his chronic ailment, which some scholars believe was an eye problem precipitated by the blinding light that he encountered on the road to Damascus. Once in Troas, Paul had a dream or a vision that led them to Macedonia, in Greece.  Luke joined the group at that juncture in AD 50, and stayed with Paul until the end of his life, 18 years later.

We don’t know the details of how Paul and his companions knew which road God wanted them to take, but the text gives us some clues that we can apply to our own lives.

First, there was the double negative against going to Asia and Bithynia, leading them to Troas: “They traveled through the region of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit did not let them preach the message in the province of Asia. When they reached the border of Mysia, they tried to go into the province of Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So they traveled right on through Mysia and went to Troas” (Acts 16: 6-8).  The Holy Spirit’s guidance may have been expressed to them through strong inward convictions or by outward circumstances (illness, legal bans, Jewish opposition, etc.[3]).   The Spirit may be warning you away from situations that are not in your best interests.

Second, they received positive guidance.   Paul had a night vision that seemed to be leading them to Macedonia: “That night Paul had a vision in which he saw a Macedonian standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us!’” (Acts 16: 9).  The Spirit may guide you through doors that have opened for you and through people and circumstances placed in your path.

The third and final piece of the puzzle was put into place when the three of them discussed it: “ . . . because we decided that God had called us to preach the Good News to the people there” (Acts 16:10).  The Greek word translated as “decided” or “convinced” literally means to “bring together.”  They discussed the circumstances and vision that God had put in their path and concluded that it was God’s will for them to go to Macedonia.  Discuss your options with trusted people of faith who have your best interests at heart.  You may receive guidance from them that supports or dissuades you from a contemplated route.

God gives us ideas, opens and closes doors in our path, and provides us with Christian brothers and sisters with whom to discuss where God is leading us.  We need to pay attention to the doors that are opening and closing, and not forget to discuss these events, as well as the ideas that may be implanted in us by the Holy Spirit. We need to look at all of the available data before forging ahead with plans on our own.

Finally, in the 21stchapter of Revelation, John gives us a glimpse of heaven—our final destination.  In his guided tour, he explains that it is a place where there are no tears, death, mourning, crying, or pain: “God himself will be with them, and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared”  (Revelation 21: 3-4).

Moreover, there are no churches and no sun or moon in heaven—yet God is everywhere, and his light is everywhere: “I did not see a temple in the city, because its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.  The city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God shines on it, and the Lamb is its lamp. The peoples of the world will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their wealth into it. The gates of the city will stand open all day; they will never be closed, because there will be no night there” (Revelation 21: 22-25).  Who wouldn’t want to spend eternity in a pain-free place of light and beauty?

Eben Alexander, M.D., a neurosurgeon, summarizes his near death experience in heaven, during his seven-day coma, as being completely enveloped in unconditional love.[4]  Dr. Alexander posits that we can all experience God’s love during our lifetimes: “Communicating with God is the most extraordinary experience imaginable, yet at the same time it’s the most natural one of all because God is present in us at all times.  Omniscient, omnipotent, personal—and loving us without conditions.  We are connected as One through our divine link with God.”[5]

Jesus confirmed that God is always with us, and we pray when we simply call on his name.  Listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as ideas occur to you and circumstances and opportunities avail themselves to you.  If you feel like you are pounding on a door that never opens, maybe you should re-think whether God wants you to go through that door.  It is almost never a good idea to want something so much that you fail to listen to God’s voice and where he is leading you.  And don’t forget to discuss these facts and circumstances with trusted Christian brothers and sisters as you make your way through life—always keeping in mind your final destination—the city of light and unconditional love.

Prayer: “May the flames of thy love ever blaze upon the altar of my heart.”– Charles Devanesan.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]“A Long and Winding Road,” Beatles

[2]Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27; John 16:23-33.

[3]SeeJohn Stott, The Message of Acts (1990) InterVarsity Press, pp. 258-260.

[4]Eben Alexander, M.D, Proof of Heaven (2012), Simon & Schuster, p. 71.

[5]Id, p. 160.

Who Am I to Stand in God’s Way?

May 13, 2019

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?(Acts 11:15-17)

On Sunday our youngest son is graduating from law school. But after we celebrate this milestone in his life, he will immediately face another challenge: preparing to take one of the most difficult bar exams in the country.  This month and next month, young people all over the globe will be graduating from schools and beginning their careers, continuing their education at another level, or preparing for exams to enter their chosen profession.  In the coming months couples will be getting married.  People will be retiring.  Children will be added to families by birth, adoption, or through a foster program.  Friends or loved ones may leave, become ill, or die.  Change can be difficult.  Something often happens to cause us to stumble after we have been bumping along in the same routine for a while. We don’t always welcome the change–some changes are devastating.

The Scripture texts for next Sunday assure us that God is with us to help and to comfort us during all of life’s challenges.[1]  The Holy Spirit helps us as we transition to new phases of our life and as we encounter new challenges.  We need to listen to the Word and pay attention to the Holy Spirit—because who are we to stand in God’s way?  Who are we to charge off into a direction that God has not guided us to?  Pay attention to the new ways that God is working in your life, and rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you.  God will use the most difficult circumstances in your life to fit them into his plans for you.

John recorded that Jesus spent his last hours with his disciples teaching a seminar on the Holy Spirit. He told them that though he was leaving them, help was on the way: “But I am telling you the truth: it is better for you that I go away, because if I do not go, the Helper will not come to you. But if I do go away, then I will send him to you. . . When, however, the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, he will lead you into all the truth” (John 16: 5-7, 13, Good News Bible).  It was a difficult lesson for the disciples to hear.

They expected Jesus to throw off their Roman oppressors and become the king of Israel. They didn’t understand why he had to leave them just when he had revealed himself as the Messiah who would usher in a great renaissance for the Jewish people. Why couldn’t he just accept the kingship that would be offered to him, so that they could all work in his administration?  Instead, Jesus continued to educate them on how they were to carry on without him.  Jesus ended the lecture by giving them a new command: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

After the resurrection and even after the disciples and others received the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter encountered a major challenge when he felt called to minister to Gentiles.  There was confusion in the early church over whom God intended to save by Jesus’ resurrection. In the first lesson Peter reports that he has been hanging out with Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18).  Most Jewish believers thought that God only offered salvation to Jews because God had given the law to them.  Others thought that Gentiles could be saved if they followed the Mosaic law, including circumcision.  Both were proven wrong by the Holy Spirit.  Peter discovered the meaning of what Isaiah had written: “See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:19).

In Acts, chapter 10, Luke told us that Cornelius, a Roman centurion, sent emissaries to Joppa to summon Peter to come to his home in Caesarea. When Peter arrived at Cornelius’s house he found a crowd of people—Cornelius’ relatives and friends. “Peter said to them:You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or to visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. May I ask why you sent for me?’” (Acts 10:28-29).

Peter understood that God had arranged the meeting when Cornelius explained that a “man in shining clothes” stood before him as he was praying and told him to send for Peter (Acts 10:30).  Peter gave the group the Cliff Notes version of what had transpired with Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection. “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers [Jews]who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.  For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God” (Acts 10:44-46).

The psalmist confirms that everyone has cause to praise God—even the Gentiles, as strange as that was to the Jewish religious establishment in the first century.  We all play an instrument or sing a song in God’s orchestra and choir: “Praise the Lord from the heavens . . . Praise the Lord from the earth . . . sea creatures . . . mountains and hills  . . . wild animals and all cattle . . . kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children” (Excerpts, Psalm 148: 1, 7-12).  Each of God’s creatures reflects his handiwork.  Each creature is an exquisite piece of craftsmanship that glorifies God.

Peter went back up to Jerusalem to explain himself and to clear the air on the question of whether Gentiles should be accepted into the fold without following all of the Jewish traditions and customs, including circumcision.   He told the church in Jerusalem what had happened in Cornelius’ house in Caesarea, including how the Holy Spirit had come upon the Gentiles. His closing argument was, “It is clear that God gave those Gentiles the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; who was I, then, to try to stop God!” (Acts 11:17, Good News Translation).  The account of the Holy Spirit’s presence among the Gentiles was the final piece of evidence that led the Jerusalem church to conclude that God had extended his saving grace to everyone through Christ’s resurrection (Acts 11:18).

The grand finale of our lives will be in the new heaven and the new earth described by John:  “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea . . . for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Excerpts, Revelation 21: 1-5).  John testified to God’s voice confirming that he is doing a new thing—during my life and in your life, and after our time on earth is over.

Peter understood that God was doing a new thing.  It threatened the establishment, the status quo, but Peter wasn’t about to start arguing with God.  God isn’t happy with the status quo.  He will put people and circumstances in your life that will challenge you.  Change can be difficult—whether you are starting a new job or leaving an old one, dealing with a new challenge at work or at home, entering into or ending a marriage, adding or subtracting a child to or from your household, caring for an ill friend or relative, or learning to live without a loved one.  When you enter into a new phase of your life or when you face new challenges, make sure that you consult with the Holy Spirit as you move forward.  And rest assured that God will fit this new challenge into his plan for your life.  He will be with you every step of the way as you move forward in faith.

Prayer: “Grant me, O Lord, heavenly wisdom, that I may learn to seek you above all things, and to understand all other things as they are according to the order of your wisdom. Amen.”  Thomas a Kempis

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1]Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-7; John 16:12-22 or John 13:31-35