Skip to content

The Opening Volley

December 11, 2017

The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

In his book, The Day the Revolution Began, N. T. Wright asserts “The resurrection was the first visible sign that the revolution was under way.”[1] But the revolution actually began three years earlier, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when Jesus read from Isaiah in his home synagogue. He read: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor “ (Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 a).[2]

Jesus fired the opening volley of the revolution when he “. . . rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down” beginning his homily with the first salvo: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). The congregants gasped, because they understood what he was saying–that he was the Messiah. The people were furious! When he left the synagogue, they followed him, intending to throw him off a cliff. But Jesus walked through the crowd with authority and never returned to Nazareth. Jesus is often depicted as a milquetoast, namby-pamby, “soft” philosopher type. He was anything but. While his intellect was unparalleled, he was also a physically strong man. He was a carpenter by trade—more a construction worker-type than a maker of furniture–who didn’t shy away from controversy. He started the revolution when he fired the opening round in that synagogue.

Paul tells us that “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). Jesus keeps his promises. While he walked the earth, he was a man of his word.   Jesus was no victim in his crucifixion. He knew it was coming, and he fired the first shot to begin moving the events toward the crucifixion. He was in control of the events. He made them happen. He fired the first shot in Nazareth and his aim and timing were perfect. He hit his intended target and the revolution started. He is a God of his Word.

In the end, even those who crucified him understood who he was: “Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. . . The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, ‘Do not write ‘King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written’” (John 19: 19-22, emphasis added). Pilate understood that the Jewish leaders thought the sign would mislead the people into believing that he was the Messiah, but Pilate refused to change the sign. The sign was written in three languages—Aramaic for the resident Jews, Latin for the Romans, and Greek for foreign visitors. Mark’s gospel records that after Jesus breathed his last breath, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion , who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God.’” (Mark 15: 38). Many of those who had opposed him finally recognized him for what he was—the Son of God.

Never doubt God’s power.  Jesus, the son of a carpenter, who turned the world upside down when he started the revolution that day in Nazareth, was the Messiah, the Son of God who came to save you and me.  Greater than all the prophets before him and all of the saints and revolutionaries after him who upended the religious establishment of their day, Jesus did not leave us alone and adrift. He left his Spirit with us. He set an example for us.  He taught us how to empty ourselves of our ego[3] so that we can fill our souls with his Spirit.  Jesus did not fire the opening volley of the revolution for naught. He started the revolution to free us from our sin.  And he left his Spirit with us to guide us.

As you make your way through this holy season, empty yourself of your ego, to make room for the Spirit.  Empty yourself of your concern about what others think of you. Empty yourself of thoughts of what you need to buy to keep up with your neighbors. Empty yourself of the accolades and promotions you hope to receive.  Empty yourself of thoughts of the money you want to add to your coffers.  Empty yourself of thoughts of the grand gifts you plan to place under the tree, and fill yourself with his Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit is the best gift you will ever receive.

The Holy Spirit does not come empty-handed. He brings gifts of wisdom, understanding, prudence, courage, knowledge, reverence, and awe of the Lord.  Open the door of your heart to the Holy Spirit, the bearer of gifts of inestimable value–as well as of peace, hope, joy, and love.  Merry Christmas!

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began (2016) HarperOne, p. 4).

[2] The Scripture texts for the Third Sunday in Advent are Isaiah 61: 1-4; 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24; John 1: 6-8; John 19-28.

[3] It has been said that “ego” is an acronym for Edging God Out.

Hurry Up and Wait

December 4, 2017

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping is promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3: 8-10).

A few years ago, my husband was scheduled to check into the hospital at 6:30 a.m. to be prepared for surgery.  We were up at 4:30 a.m. and out the door 30 minutes later to miss the Los Angeles morning rush hour traffic. We arrived at the hospital at O-dark thirty, well before the check in time. We waited. And waited. And waited, checking in periodically with the staff to make sure that he wasn’t dropped off the list. We were told that an emergency had come up, and his surgery had been delayed. He was finally called six hours after our arrival, at about the time we were supposed to be leaving the hospital after his surgery.  He finally went into surgery at about 3:00 p.m. I was notified about 8 p.m. that he was out of surgery and would be staying in the hospital overnight.   He was in recovery for a few hours, and I was finally able to see him in his room at about 11:30 p.m.— more than 17 hours after our arrival.

The phrase “hurry up and wait,” usually associated with the military, took on new meaning that day for us. Waiting for Jesus is kind of like that. We wait patiently, for hours, weeks, months, years for him to come and attend to our needs. Where is he? When will he heal us or our loved ones? When will he deliver us from a tyrant? Will he answer my prayers for a job? When is he coming?

This week’s Scripture texts[1] explain the importance of waiting on the Lord. Last week we discussed how the Israelites had been waiting for centuries for the Messiah. Isaiah tells us that we must be patient, for we are on earth for a short time, like the grass, but the Word endures forever: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40: 8).  But Isaiah assures us that he will come with power and might and will take us into his arms, as a shepherd cradles his beloved sheep: “The Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm, . . . he tends his flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40: 10-11).

The psalmist confirms that God will revive and restore us through his love: “Restore us again, God our Savior . . . Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us your salvation.” (Excerpts, Psalm 85: 4-7). He promises that “The lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps” (Psalm 85: 12-13).   John the Baptist was the one who prepared the way for Jesus, the Messiah: “And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.” (Mark 1: 4).

We have tendency to try to hurry things along.   We hurry up to decorate the house for Christmas after Thanksgiving, and wait a few weeks for the Christ child. We are impatient. We don’t like to wait in line in a store or wait for a traffic light to change. We want things to happen now. Like children, we see the gifts stacking up under the tree, and look forward to the Christmas teas, events, parties, and dinners with great anticipation.

Yet, it is good to be reminded, even for a few short weeks, that we are lucky to be blessed with extra time to wait. Peter tells us “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping is promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3: 8-9). We are lucky that the Lord gives us more time. He is patient.

The Nazarene carpenter who was born in Bethlehem as foretold of old, was the one of whom John spoke: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1: 7-8. And so it happened. We were not left alone. Jesus left us the best gift of all—his Spirit, to remain with us forever.

Sometimes I hear people say that they can’t wait for Jesus’ second coming. But there is no need to wait; he is here. He left his Spirit with us. You are not alone. You are not waiting by yourself in the hospital waiting room. You are not alone when you are waiting for the jury to come back on your case, waiting to hear about the job you applied for, waiting for the test results you are anxious about, waiting for the difficult person in your life to treat you with respect, waiting to see whether you will have enough money this month to cover your bills, or waiting for anything else causing you anxiety. He is there. You are not alone whatever your circumstance. He is there, waiting patiently for you to come to him. God will never bump you down on his list. He isn’t delaying his second coming. He is just being patient with you—and in the meantime, he sent you the gift of his Spirit to guide, comfort, help, and love you.  Turn to him and let him do his job—guiding, comforting, helping, and loving–and enjoy being in his presence during this holy season.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

 

 

[1] The Scripture texts for the Second Sunday in Advent are Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3: 8-14; Mark 1: 1-8.

Saved!

November 27, 2017

Restore us, O God, make your face shine on us, that we may be saved” (Psalm 80: 3).

This Sunday is the first Sunday of the church year, and the first Sunday in Advent. Our lectionary studies this year will focus on the fast-moving gospel of Mark, written by one of the younger disciples. As we begin the new church year in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the focus is on Jesus, the heart of Christmas.

We pick up Jesus’ story this week as he is entering Jerusalem for Passover.[1] The city streets were crowded with people who had come to Jerusalem for Passover, one of the three great feasts, remembering the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt where they had been enslaved for 400 years. The theme of this week’s Scripture texts is the oppression suffered by the Israelites over hundreds of years, and their high expectations for the Messiah, who they were counting on to return them to self- rule.

Currently under Roman rule, the Israelites were ready to be free of years of oppression by foreign powers. Except for the six year blip during the Maccabean Revolt (166-160 B.C.), they had been under foreign rule for hundreds of years.

The psalmist pleads with God three times to restore them so that they could be saved: “Restore us, O God, make your face shine on us, that we may be saved” (Psalm 80: 3, 7, 19). The Israelites were under Assyrian rule when Asaph wrote this psalm. The psalmist confirms that God is our only hope of salvation. He is the only one who can truly set us free.

The freedom-seeking theme is continued in Isaiah. Isaiah pleads with God to “come down” to free them from the Assyrian threat. The expectations for the Messiah were great. He would rid them of their earthly foes and would set the record straight: “Come down to make your name known to enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you” (Isaiah 64: 2-3).

The Passover crowd was at a fever pitch of excitement in remembering their ancestors being set free from their Egyptian rulers when they saw Jesus riding through the streets on a donkey. The significance of Jesus riding a donkey was not lost on this Scripturally literate crowd. They were familiar with Zechariah 9:9, when Zechariah predicted that the Messiah would arrive on a donkey.   Already imbued with a patriotic fervor, the people hailed him as the conquering Messiah who would rout out the Romans and return Israel to home rule. “Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David. Hosanna in the highest’” (Mark 11: 9-10). Hosanna is a Hebrew expression that means “Save.” They were greeting Jesus as their conquering hero who would save them from the Romans, their most recent oppressors.

But the popular hysteria over the Messiah is quelled by the time that Paul writes his letter to the Corinthians. They knew by then that the Messiah was not sent to conquer earthly armies, but instead, to win hearts and souls for eternity: “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9).

The Israelites were thinking too small. They were focused on how the Messiah would free them from earthly tyrants. But God’s plans are eternal. His plans for us are not limited by time. We need to work for justice to the best of our abilities, but life on earth will never be perfect.  Jesus was born to set our spirits free in this life and in the next.  Remember that when you are persecuted, harassed, slandered, or discriminated against by tyrants in society, in your workplace, or elsewhere on account of your race, religion, gender, your competency, or for any other reason.  Remember that God’s plans for us are not limited by our human minds or by the small minds of bullies.  We are free to worship God in our hearts and minds. We are free to love him and to follow him whatever our circumstances—whatever our position in life.  He has loosed the chains of eternal oppression and set us free.  Celebrate that freedom this Christmas season.  Celebrate the fact that God has his eye on you and has saved you.  Jesus, your Savior, is your most precious Christmas gift.  Merry Christmas!

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the First Sunday in Advent are Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 11: 1-10.

Sheep May Safely Graze

November 20, 2017

I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. . . I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them.” (Ezekiel 34: 15, 23-24).

Sheep May Safely Graze, an aria by J.S. Bach, was played as my candlelighter brothers lit the candles, Bob and his groomsmen entered the church, and the bridesmaids, flower girls, and ring bearer slowly made their way down the aisle at our wedding.  This calming, pastoral piece of music came to mind last spring as we traveled through the verdant green Tuscan countryside dotted with sheep quietly grazing.  It was a picture of peace and contentment.  The cars, buses, and trucks whizzed by and the planes droned overhead, yet the sheep, confident of the shepherd’s protection, grazed contentedly.  We, like the sheep in the pasture, should be content and at peace in the knowledge that God is in control and will take care of us.  It is as our Good Shepherd would have it.   He knows the burdens we bear, but he assures us that he is with us always. He will take care of us and see us through the most challenging times of our lives, and will carry us to the green pastures beyond this life.

Phillip Keller was a shepherd in East Africa. He recounts that “Any shepherd who is a good manager always bears in mind one objective: It is that his flock may flourish. The continuous well being of his sheep is his constant preoccupation. All of his time, thought, skill, strength and resources are directed to this end.” [1] Just as a shepherd oversees his flock with a watchful eye, so does our Good Shepherd keep watch over us.  He wants us to be safe and to flourish.

In this the last week of the church year, the Scripture lessons focus on the one who was predicted to become and did become the perfect shepherd.[2] The texts remind us that Jesus, our perfect shepherd, was born in the line of David, as had been prophesized.

More than 800 years before David became king in 1010 B.C., Jacob predicted that the Messiah would be born of the line of his son, Judah (Genesis 49: 10-11). After David ascended to the throne, God instructed Nathan to deliver the news to David, the former shepherd: “Now then, tell my servant David,This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. . . When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. . . . Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (Excerpts from 2 Samuel 7: 8-16).

In the next century, Ethan, a contemporary of David’s son, Solomon, wrote Psalm 89 confirming the Davidic covenant. In the ensuing centuries, God raised up prophets to remind the Israelites of the promised Messiah, from the line of David: Hosea and Isaiah (8th Century B.C.), Jeremiah (7th Century B.C.), and Ezekie1 (6th Century B.C.).

Ezekiel was one of a long line of prophets and Biblical patriarchs who foretold that the Messiah would be born in the line of King David.  Ezekiel lived in the 6th century B.C. during the Babylonian captivity, and as both a priest and a prophet, ministered to the needs of his fellow Jewish exiles in the streets of Babylon, near Bagdad, in current day Iraq. Conjuring up the imagery of the shepherd, Ezekiel writes that God told him to report the following: “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness . . . I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land . . . I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord . . . I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them.” (Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 14-15, 23-24).  The Messiah who would be born of the line of David, would be the perfect shepherd, God’s only son.

The psalm continues the imagery of God as the shepherd: “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” (Psalm 95: 6-7).

Like the sheep in the pastoral setting in Tuscany who safely graze under the watchful eye of a vigilant and caring shepherd, we find peace when we rely on the perfect shepherd to lead us to still waters, to provide and care for us.  And we are asked to pass on his care for us to those around us.  Jesus, the perfect shepherd asks us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, invite strangers into our midst, provide clothes to the needy, and visit the sick and those in prison (Matthew 25: 37-45).  Jesus makes it very clear that giving lip service to our faith is not enough. We are required to pass on the blessings we have received to others: “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did not do for the one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25: 45-46).

God is the Good Shepherd who tends his flock with a watchful eye.   When you cry out to him, he is there to carry you, to comfort you, to save you from the certain destruction that would befall you if you were left to your own devices. And he will guide you to shepherd others as he has cared for and shepherded you. Listen to the shepherd’s call and follow him.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] Keller, The Shepherd Trilogy: A Shepherd Looks at the Good Shepherd, (1970) Zondervan, p.228.

[2] The Scripture texts for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost are Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95; 1 Corinthians 15: 20-28; Matthew 25: 31-46

Accountability and the FBI

November 13, 2017

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90: 12).

A fifth-grader named Grace recently visited our church and regaled my friend Donna and me with information about her Catholic elementary school. She explained how the teachers in her school hold the students accountable for their study habits. When Donna and I were in elementary school, the day of reckoning came on test day; the test results were a reliable measure of how much work the student had done. But in Grace’s school, the children are each given an iPad with software that permits the teachers to monitor the amount of work each student is doing every week. There are no game apps on these iPads. And if you try to put a game on your iPad, an alert to the school goes out, the school notifies the parents and you are in big trouble with a capital T.  Or as the beloved Irish principal at our local Catholic elementary school would tell the 8th grade boys to warn them against juvenile pranks: “The FBI might be called in on the case.”

The Scripture lessons this week are about accountability. [1] It is a recurrent theme in these last few weeks of the church year.

Zephaniah was a prophet during the reign of Josiah, the last good king of Judah. Under Zephaniah’s tutelage, Josiah enacted many reforms following the reign of the evil king Mannasseh.   Zephaniah inspired a period of revival by his warning that “the day of the Lord is near” (Zephaniah 1: 7). “The day of the Lord” can refer to an Old Testament event, the coming of the Messiah, and/or the ultimate judgment at Christ’s second coming. Here, it probably means at least two of the three, because Judah began to fall to Babylonian rule almost immediately after the death of Josiah in battle in 609 B.C. Like most of the prophets, Zephaniah warned the people that at some point in time, there would be a reckoning—a time when they would be held accountable.

Moses, the author of the oldest psalm, confirmed that God is not limited by time; he is eternal, and we can depend on him. But we have a limited time on earth. We should use our time wisely, and not live only for the moment, but keep an eternal perspective: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God. . . . A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by . . . yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death. . . Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90: 1-2, 4, 5a, 12). The time will come when we will be held accountable.

Paul continues the theme of accountability: “[T]he day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night . . . But you, brothers and sisters are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. . . Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 4, 11).

In his parable of the loaned money, Jesus warns us that we are accountable as to what we do in life. When we are adopted into the family of God, and the Holy Spirit lives within us to come alongside us and guide us, he makes sure that we have what we need to accomplish our tasks. He provides the gifts, talents and abilities needed to use in the service of God. He helps us, and he holds us accountable for how we use the time, gifts, and talents we are given. If we do nothing with those talents and abilities (bury them in a hole in the ground), we have not done what God wants us to do, and we will be held to account. But the person who uses his or her God-given talents and abilities in the service of God, will hear those precious words at the end of life on earth: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25: 23).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost are Zephaniah 1: 7-16; Psalm 90:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11; Matthew 25: 14-30

Be There

November 6, 2017

“And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4: 17b-18).

Years ago I heard someone say that when he and his wife encouraged their children to keep the faith, they used a short-hand phrase: “Be there,” to remind them that when their earthly lives were ended, they would be reunited as a family in heaven, if they all kept the faith. Be there. That is the theme for this week’s Scripture lessons.[1]

Amos’s name means “burden-bearer.” His burden was that underneath the surface of a prosperous nation, Israel’s soul was rotting from within. Parallels have been drawn to the modern day decline of Western civilization, and in that respect, Amos’s warnings are eerily current. The people were calling for the Day of the Lord, or God’s ultimate judgment, yet it was one of those times when you should be careful about what you wish for: “Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him” (Amos 5: 18-24). God’s judgment will bring great joy to believers who will be reunited with God and their loved ones in the faith, but it will be a day of darkness for all others.

David continues the theme of the importance to seek God throughout our lives. If we seek him, he will direct you to the path he wants you to take. Stay on the path:
Hasten O God, to save me; come quickly Lord, to help me” (Psalm 70: 1).

The members of the church at Thessalonica wanted to know what would happen to them and to their fellow believers upon death. Paul told them that his teaching was “According to the Lord’s word” (1 Thessalonians 4: 15), meaning that it was information directly revealed to Paul by the Lord, or it was one of Jesus’ teachings that the apostles passed on to Paul.   He explained to them that all believers–those who have died and those still alive, at Jesus’ second coming–will be reunited with him forever, and never suffer or die again: “And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4: 17b-18). Paul challenges us to encourage each other with this promise.  Be there.

Hell is separation from the God who loves and cares for you.  If hell is the black hole devoid of light and love described by Amos, then heaven is the opposite.  I am publishing this blog from Hawaii, sometimes called paradise because of its natural beauty, sunshine, and gentle tradewinds. But heaven, the real paradise, is so much more. It is filled with the light of Christ that shines on all and permeates every cell of those present.  God’s visage casts no shadows. There is no illness or unhappiness. Its inhabitants never shed a tear. God’s light and love holds and warms each person gently and completely.  Be there.

During one of Jesus’ teachings, he tells the story of the ten bridesmaids who waited for the bridegroom. Five of them took extra oil but the other five did not. The girls had to wait a long time. When the bridegroom finally arrived, the young ladies went out to meet him, but the light from the lamps of the five who had not brought extra oil waned, and they prevailed upon the others for more oil. But there wasn’t enough oil to share, so the five who had not prepared were shut out. This parable asks the question: “What should we do while we are waiting for Christ?” The answer? Get about our daily lives and keep the faith.  Be there.

Don’t let your light go out. Every person is responsible for his or her own spiritual well-being.  Keep fueling your faith by maintaining open lines of communication with God, studying the Word, and using the opportunities that are presented to you to strengthen and to share your faith.  Don’t hide your light under a bushel.  Let the Christ light shine through you to those around you. Faith cannot be transferred from one person to another, but you can share your joy in Christ Jesus.  Follow Paul’s advice to encourage others.  Each person must commit to being there.  Make that commitment today and encourage others as well to be there.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost are Amos 5: 18-24; Psalm 70; 1 Thessalonians 4: 3-18; Matthew 25: 1-13.

Sinner or Saint?

October 30, 2017

Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23: 11-12

This blog is being published on Halloween Eve, the day before devils, ghosts, goblins, vampires, and all sorts of scary sinners roam the streets threatening to trick folks if they don’t hand over a token treat.   The day after Halloween is All Saints Day, a festival day set aside by the church to remember all known and unknown saints; it celebrates the bond between the living faithful and those believers who have gone before us. Bob and I were married on All Saints Day.  It was a good way to remember that our vows were witnessed by the ones dear to us who were in the “Church Triumphant” (heaven), as well as those in the church on that sunny November morning.

The back-to-back- celebrations of Halloween and All Saints Day is a fitting time of year to give some thought to saints and sinners. Some say that sinners are more fun than saints, but the truth is that we are all sinners. In exposing the corruption of the day, Micah shows the character of God, who hates sin, but loves the sinner.[1] Micah knew that he did not have the power to carry out his ministry, but that God would provide the energy and power he needed: “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin.” (Micah: 3: 8). Yet, as filled with the power of the Spirit as he was, Micah taught that the Lord requires you “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).

Like Micah, the psalmist pleads his “cause against an ungodly nation“ (Psalm 43:1a).  And like Micah, he knows that he will be rescued when he is in the presence of God: “Rescue me from those who are deceitful and wicked. You are God my stronghold . . . Let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell” (excerpts Psalm 43:1-3).  God’s holy mountain was the temple in Jerusalem where he would meet God. Both the psalmist and Micah knew that when you are going through a period of darkness, pain, doubt, and despair, the way home is to follow the light of the Holy Spirit and to rest in his presence.  St. John reminds us that the darkness of sin will never overcome God’s light: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

And even though we seek to follow the light of Jesus, to follow his example–our sin prevents us from following him perfectly. Yet we are inclined to toot our own horns and to elevate ourselves. We sometimes think that we are better than we are.  Jesus warns: “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23: 11-12).  World leaders are not usually known for their humble natures.  French President Macron recently declared he will govern France like Jupiter, the Roman king of the gods.  When we think that we are god-like, when we fail to recognize our sinful selves, we fail in our ability to follow Christ, who set the perfect example of humility.  Following Christ is not declaring that you are god-like, but just the opposite—imitating Christ’s humility.  We often ignore our shortcomings and rule our homes, teams, projects, businesses, agencies, and other organizations without regard to others. But Jesus’ example shows us that true leaders are servants. They recognize their own failings, seek input from others, and do not put themselves above others.  Jesus’ teachings are not just good theology; they are also good practical advice.

Paul continues providing practical advice that will help us get along better with others: “We urge you, brothers and sisters, to do more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thessalonians 4: 10-12).

Sinner or saint? Believers are both. You are a child of God, who hates your sin, but loves you as his dear child for whom he gave his Son, and sent his Spirit to guide you along a safe, healthy, and productive path. Acknowledge your failings, seek to follow his lead, and he will give you the energy and the power you need to accomplish the tasks before you.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost are Micah 3: 5-12; Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 4: 1-12; Matthew 23: 1-12.