Devotional for April 29-May 5, 2018
Read Mark 1: 16-20....The Call of the First Disciples
There are several things that stand out to me in Jesus’ call of the first disciples…
*When Jesus encountered Simon and Andrew, his first words to them were “Follow Me!” These two fishermen were not to follow the desires of their own hearts. They were not to set their own agendas and itineraries. They were to follow Jesus’ lead and go to the place and to the need he would reveal to them. It seems to me that we get ourselves in a heap of trouble in our mission and ministry, when we strike out on our own without consulting Jesus. When we take matters into our own hands without first taking it to the Lord in prayer, asking for guidance and direction.
When I was in Greenwood back in the 80’s, I decided that Greenwood needed a soup kitchen. But my efforts to make this happen failed miserably. After a year had passed, and after much prayer, I received a call from the Episcopal priest in town, asking if our congregation would join them in establishing a soup kitchen in the basement of their church. God was saying to me, “It is not your time. It is my time!”
I learned my lesson. Since I arrived at Westminster on March 1, I have spent a lot of time in prayer, asking God what he wants us to be about here at the church. And I am convinced that in God’s own time, God will supply the answer.
*Another thing that struck me about the call of the first disciples was the response of Simon, Andrew, James and John. It was immediate. They did not ask any questions like; “Where are we going?” or “What are the costs involved?” They did not make any excuses like some other people in the Bible when God issued a call to them. They left everything behind and immediately followed Jesus.
We are not to take matters into our own hands. We must wait for the Lord. But when he calls, our response should be prompt. We are not to procrastinate, waiting on others to get the job done. We are not to delay, fearing that we might fail. When God gives us a job to do, we are to roll up our sleeves and get to work. The call, whatever it may be, should have priority in our lives. There are two types of people in the church: the dreamers and the doers. The church needs both. But in most of the churches I have served, it seems as though we have a lot of idea people and a lack of people who will work to make the ideas a reality.
There is a modern day parable that has Jesus calling a church to go fishing. So the church forms numerous committees to come up with a plan. They have a committee to discuss what bait they should use, a committee to decide where to fish, a committee to decide what type of fish they should catch, a committee to decide if they should fish in fresh water or salt. By the time the committees finished their work and were ready to report, fishing was out of season. Sounds like a Presbyterian congregation, now doesn’t it? I think Jesus looks at us and says, “I have given you a job to do. JUST DO IT!”
*The last thing that struck me about the call to the disciples was that Jesus was asking these fellows to do something that they had never done before. They were ill equipped for the task at hand. But Jesus provided them with what they needed to accomplish their mission.
Sometimes when the call of God comes to our lives, we feel inadequate for the job God has given us. Like the one talent man, when we compare our lives to those who seem multitalented, we are tempted to quit our assignment and bury the gift we do have. This scripture passage reminds us that God will supply our needs to fulfill his call. Just look at what all those uneducated and theologically deficient disciples were able to accomplish in their lives. And God can accomplish similar results through the likes of you and me if we will but sing and believe, “I’m gonna live so God can use me!”
This Week’s Devotional ….April 22-28
Read Mark 4: 1-9…The Parable of the Sower
Len Bornemann is leading a fantastic Sunday morning study on Biblical Interpretation, so I thought for the devotional this week; I would give you an example as to how a scripture passage can be interpreted in different ways. Each of which is relevant and valid.
Ordinarily, when we read the Parable of the Sower who sowed seeds on all types of soil, we see it as a parable of exhortation as it makes us ask the question, “What kind of soil am I? Do I listen to the word of God in such a way that it bears fruit in my life or am I like the other three soils? Do I hear the word of the Lord, but it has no effect upon my life or behavior?”
The parable therefore, exhorts us to listen to God’s word and take it to heart. (Remember this exhortation on Sunday Mornings at 10 am when you are about to doze off.) This interpretation is supported by the way the parable begins and ends. Jesus introduces the parable by saying, “Listen!” And he concludes the parable by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus’ own interpretation of the parable (Mark 4: 13-20) also supports the conclusion that the parable is about listening in the right way.
That is one way to interpret this parable. But there is another way to see this story. This parable can be seen as offering encouragement to disciples in each and every age. Notice the stunning contrast between the three soils that failed to produce and the three abundant yields (“thirty, sixty and one hundred fold”). It is a contrast between disappointing beginning and extravagant results at the end. And all the while, the sower keeps casting his seed on all types of ground.
I believe Jesus is telling his disciples then and his disciples now that in Kingdom work, there will be failures. Not everyone is going to respond in a positive way to the proclamation of the Gospel. But such failures should not thwart our efforts for the kingdom. We need to be persistent. We need to be like that crazy sower and keep scattering our seed come what may, because in the end the results will be amazing. The harvest will be so abundant that it will make your mouth fly open with astonishment. Sown seed is rich with promise, and so is the Kingdom of God, so keep on keeping on.
On more than one occasion, when I feel as though I am swimming upstream, when my efforts as a minister do not achieve their intended results, I need to hear the encouragement this parable offers.
So there you have it; one parable, but two interpretations. It just goes to show how rich in meaning is the Word of God for you and for me.
Matthew 18: 21-22
Then Peter came to him and said, “If a brother or sister sins against me, how often should I forgive? Is seven times sufficient?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven!”
The disciple Peter, in his question to Jesus, thought that he was being quite magnanimous in suggesting that one should forgive a person seven times. After all, the Talmud said that if a brother or sister sinned against you, your forgiveness could be offered 3 times and that was it. But Jesus told Peter that seven times was not sufficient. In his reply to this disciple, Jesus was saying that our forgiveness should be without limits.
I do not know about you, but forgiveness is one of the most difficult things I am called to do. It is easy to forgive a minor offense, but when someone offends you greatly or causes you significant harm, it is hard to forgive. It is hard to forgive because forgiveness does not just mean offering pardon, it means working to restore the relationship with the person who has harmed you.
Fredrick Buechner said, “Forgiveness means saying to the person, ‘What you did hurt me deeply and by all accounts, I should call it quits between us. But despite the pain you caused, I still want to be with and for you.’” That is extremely difficult and costly.
God shows how costly it is to forgive the likes of you and me for our transgressions. It costs him his son who hung from the cross and said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Even though it is costly, we are called to forgive, not only for the benefit of the one who sinned, but also for our own welfare. Jim Glennon, an Episcopal priest from Australia, who has written several books on spiritual healing, has said that sometimes an illness can be traced to the animosity we harbor in our hearts toward someone who has hurt us. The animosity festers and grows within until physical symptoms manifest themselves in the form of a disease or illness.
Glennon suggests that we should reflect upon our past, and if we have resentments toward another or harbor grudges, we need to go and be reconciled. Our spiritual health contributes greatly to our physical wellbeing.
Most of you have heard the story about my father having an affair and my mother eventually forgiving him of his transgression. What you haven’t heard is that I did not forgive him. And for the next several years, I was plagued by multiple digestive problems, even landing in the hospital for a few days.
It took my father’s heart attack to convince me that I should be reconciled with the man who had meant so much to me. After several difficult and heartfelt conversations between the two of us, we did become reconciled two weeks before his death. Since that time of reconciliation, my digestive problems ceased. I let go of my anger and resentment. And not only was my spiritual health restored, but so was my physical well being.
Forgiveness is a most difficult thing. To be reconciled to someone who has caused us harm is costly. But if we do not forgive, the costs could be greater. We could lose a relationship we once cherished and our physical and spiritual health could be affected.
When I am faced with the necessity to forgive, I remember just one thing. If God forgave me of my many sins, then I have no choice but to forgive my brothers and sisters.
Devotion for the Second Week after Easter………John 20:19-31
In the churches I have served over the years, one of the things that has caused me considerable consternation is the contrast which exists between Holy Week services and Easter worship. During Holy Week, attendance at worship services is sporadic at best. One local minister told me that only 10% of the church’s membership attended the Maundy Thursday Communion service this year.
But it is a whole different story on the “Day of Resurrection”. The church’s sanctuary is overflowing with people, some of whom you have not seen since Christmas. Why is it that people flock to church on Easter, but are reluctant to attend Maundy Thursday or Tenebrae services? Is it because people do not want to come out on a weekday evening, but a Sunday morning worship fits their schedules better? That could be the case, but I feel it goes much deeper than this. I think it has to do with one’s faith and theology.
Several years ago, I saw one of my church members in town and I said, “I did not see you in attendance at our Good Friday service.” To which she replied, “I am not into sackcloth and ashes. I have enough sadness in my life without the church adding to it. I prefer to be uplifted by the news of Easter.”
There are a lot of people like this lady who want a feel good faith, who prefer to sing ”The Day of Resurrection” instead of “Beneath the Cross of Jesus”, who do not want to hear about sacrifice and cross bearing, but only want to listen to the joys inherent in our faith. They want to skip Good Friday and go straight to Easter.
But I believe that one cannot fully appreciate Easter without first going through Good Friday. One cannot fully understand the resurrection without also understanding the crucifixion. One cannot grasp the good news of Jesus Christ without knowing about the bad news of sin and death.
The disciple Thomas gets a bad rap. He has been labeled “Doubting Thomas” because he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” But could it be that Thomas wanted to make sure that the risen Lord whom the disciples saw was one and the same as the man crucified, dead and buried? Could it be that Thomas wanted to know that the victorious Christ was also the crucified Christ who was wounded for our transgressions?
In demanding to see the marks of the nails, I believe that Thomas was seeking a balanced view of the faith. I believe he realized that Easter does not mean all that much unless it comes by way of Good Friday. Thomas did not just want a Savior to make him feel good. He wanted a suffering servant who would understand the trials and tribulations which human beings have to endure.
Our lives will not be well served by a feel good faith that buries its head to the difficulties that arise in life. We will not benefit from a faith that refuses to tackle the difficult issues facing human beings today. We do not just need a triumphant Lord who will stand with us on the mountaintop, but the crucified one who will be with us in the valley of the shadow.
Two days after 9/11, Anton Armstrong, Professor of Sacred Music at St. Olaf College, was approached by one of his former students who was serving as choir director for contemporary worship at a mega church in Chicago. “I have poured through our contemporary songbook and cannot find an appropriate song for our 9/11 service,” she said. “Dust off a hymnal,” Armstrong replied. “Dust off a hymnal and use one of the great hymns of the faith which takes into account the realities of human life. Those happy songs of yours might make one feel good, but they will not bring one comfort like the hymns which have assured generations that He is with us.”
It is important to know, as Thomas discovered, that the Triumphant One is also the Crucified One who holds each and every one of us in those nailed scarred hands.
After Easter Letdown
John 20: 1-9
We had a wonderful Easter celebration this year. The organ was at full swell and glorious. The hymns we sang were uplifting. People had smiles on their faces. The sermon was upbeat and joy filled the air, all because we were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ who has defeated sin and death. This Easter, even we Presbyterians were on a religious high!
But after the Day of Resurrection, comes the day of another work week, when it is back to the office, back to the laundry and chores, back to our monotonous routines and back to our ordinary worship experience on Sunday. No wonder they call the Sunday after Easter, “Low Sunday”. After Easter, we resume our daily schedules and act as though nothing of great import has occurred.
That was the case with Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. After hearing from Mary Magdalene that the tomb where they laid Jesus was empty, these two disciples ran to the tomb just as fast as their legs could carry them. When both of them finally entered the tomb, they saw the linen wrappings and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, but there was no Jesus. When the disciple whom Jesus loved saw this scene, scripture says, “He believed for until then, they had not understood the scriptures which showed he must rise from the dead.” (New English Bible translation)
They were privy to the greatest miracle ever. Their eyes were opened and their heart convinced that Jesus had gotten up out of that tomb alive!
So what did they do? They did not go and tell their friends about what had happened. They did not go to the mountain top and publish the good news. They did not share this news with anyone. Scripture has it that they simply returned to their homes. They went to their homes as though nothing dramatic or earth shaking had occurred.
And that sums up our reaction to Easter. When Monday rolls around, it will be business as usual and we will give no thought to the resurrection and its meaning for our lives and the world in which we live.
But we are not dealing with a dead memory. We are dealing with a living Lord who can and will apprehend our lives. Jesus did not let those disciples remain in their homes to twiddle their thumbs. He encountered their lives on at least three different occasions in the Gospel of John assuring them that he was alive, bestowing the Holy Spirit upon them and giving them their marching orders.
And so it is with us. Jesus refuses to let us settle into our dull little routines and forget that Easter has occurred. He will show up in our lives to comfort, but also to command that we be about the work of his kingdom which has no end. “Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs. Feed my sheep.” He said to Peter. The Lord of Easter wants us to enlist in his Resurrection Enterprise and tell the world that he lives, and because he lives, we too can live, abundantly and eternally.