Streams of living water…

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John 7:37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

This morning v.38 got my attention, “Out of the believers hearts shall flow rivers of living water.” Reminds me of a visit I had recently with a woman who is in her last days on earth. She has fought the good fight but disease will soon take her life. As I entered her room she opened her eyes a bit and smiled at me. She’s in hospice care so she’s a bit woozy from the pain meds. She told me she’s ready to see the Lord. Though she remains in some pain, she is at peace.

We spoke for a few minutes and then I invited her family members to join us for holy communion. I said the blessing over small pieces of bread and small cups of juice. Her body can only tolerate water so she had water. I’m pretty sure it’s okay there were no grapes involved. Jesus will understand.

We said the Lord’s Prayer together. I watcher her lips move as she spoke the words, though she prayed in a whisper. And perhaps, for the last time while her body draws breath, her family members joined her for the sacrament. It was a holy, sacred moment.

Then I anointed her head with oil and blessed her, marking her forehead with the sign of the cross, reminding her who she is and to whom she belongs. She smiled. Again. Her body has almost given out completely, but streams of living water continue to flow in her and through her. I hope the same will be said of me when my time comes. Lord let it be so. Amen.

David has a question, God has an answer…

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2 Samuel 5:17 When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, all the Philistines went up in search of David; but David heard about it and went down to the stronghold. 18 Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the valley of Rephaim. 19 David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?” The LORD said to David, “Go up; for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand.” 20 So David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there.

I have to admit I get a little jealous here. When David has an important question he brings in the priest with the ephod and asks God directly what he should do. And God answers him. How handy would that be for you and me, right?

I realize that we now have access to the Holy Spirit in a way that was not true in David’s time – because the Holy Spirit had not yet come. Even so, it’s not nearly as direct for us as it was for David. These days I think I’d prefer direct.

Gracious God, we have so many questions today. As we lift our lives to you in prayer, speak so that we can hear you clearly. And then give us grace to follow where you lead. Amen.

Family stories…

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John 7:1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him. 2 Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. 3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; 4 for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 (For not even his brothers believed in him.) 6 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil. 8 Go to the festival yourselves. I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

One of the endearing aspects of families is the telling of family lore – stories about a family’s history that are told over and over. Each year on my birthday (when I was a youngster) my grandmother would tell me the story of my birth – how excited she was to see her first grandchild and so on. Even now I smile when I think about it. She was a great storyteller.

The gospel-writer Luke tells the best-known version of Jesus’ birth story. The angel Gabriel appeared to a young woman named Mary who, though a virgin, would conceive a child. A son. The Son of God. And how at the time of Jesus’ birth, the shepherds in the fields came to see him. And how, some time later, three kings/wise men/astrologers visited Jesus bearing gifts fit for a king. I think you will agree it’s an unforgettable story.

So I get a bit confused when I read in v.5 that Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe in him. I wonder how this is possible. Wouldn’t Mary and Joseph have shared the story of Jesus’ birth with Jesus’ younger siblings as they grew up? How could they not? Baffles me a bit this morning.

Lord, thank you for families. For family stories. For the story of your family, the Church, brought together by faith in Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Lead us not into temptation…

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John 6:60 When many of his disciples heard (Jesus , they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

The level of challenge faced by Jesus’ disciples has been steadily increasing. Whereas it was fun in the beginning, it’s not fun anymore. It’s not a festival environment with people being healed and onlookers cheering Jesus. Authorities are looking for ways to kill Jesus. And Jesus offers strange teachings about eating his body and drinking his blood. Eventually even the 12 will turn from Jesus.

As I’m reading this morning I’m wondering what it would take for me to turn from Jesus too. I’m only human. I have my breaking point. In closing I will recite the words of the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father in heaven, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Amen.”

I fear we are…

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2 Samuel 2:1 After (King Saul of Israel died) David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah (to make a home)?” The LORD said to him, “Go up.” David said, “To which shall I go up?” He said, “To Hebron.” 2 So David went up there, along with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 3 David brought up the men who were with him, every one with his household; and they settled in the towns of Hebron. 4 Then the people of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah… 8 But Abner son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ishbaal son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim. 9 He made him king over Gilead, the Ashurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, Benjamin, and over all Israel.

Here we have the first split among God’s people – with Ashbaal (son of deceased King Saul) ruler over the northern nations and David ruler of Judah in the south. David would eventually unite Israel once again, but it would not last. Over many generations Israel would divide between northern and southern kingdoms, putting them at a clear disadvantage as Assyria conquered the northern kingdom and Babylon the southern kingdom. It’s as Jesus said “A house divided against itself cannot stand”.

We’re in the heart of the political season right now, with election day less than a month away. As if I needed reminding, we are a nation divided. I fear the upcoming election isn’t going to resolve that division, no matter who assumes political office. Verbal demonstrations have become more violent over the last several months. Just yesterday a group of 13 were arrested for plotting to kidnap the governor of Michigan. A governor! What in the world?

I suppose one could say it’s human nature to fight one another. But I have hope in the Lord, who can unite us. Let’s pray.

Dear Lord without you we are left to our violent human tendencies. Bring your spirit of peace and empower your Church to show the world what it looks like to live in peace. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Eat my flesh, drink my blood…

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John 6:52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

V.52 asks a great question, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” You gotta admit, in this passage Jesus sounds like the leader of a strange cannibalistic cult. Eat flesh? Drink blood? In fact this rumor of cannibalism was one of the reasons for the persecution of Christians in the early years of the church.

There are other teachings of our faith that seem strange to outsiders. Most gods of the world require people to offer sacrifices to them. In God’s case he sacrificed his own son for us. That’s like the practice of sacrifice in reverse. Then Jesus died like a common criminal. Humiliated. An unbeliever might think that if our God wouldn’t save his own son Jesus, why would he save us? There are more strange ideas that are part of our Christian faith, but you get the idea. I’ve become so familiar with the strange elements of our faith I forget how perplexing they really are to the uninitiated.

That said I’m so grateful for the practice of holy communion in the worship life of our church. When I ask people what they have missed most about worshipping in person they often say “communion”. It’s not that virtual communion isn’t meaningful, it’s just different than sharing the sacrament in the context of the larger community.

56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

Lord, let it be so. Amen.

The ephod…

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1 Samuel 30:7 David said to the priest Abiathar son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” So Abiathar brought the ephod to David. 8 David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I pursue this band? Shall I overtake them?” He answered him, “Pursue; for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.” 9 So David set out, he and the six hundred men who were with him.

When David wanted to receive guidance from the Lord he would tell the priest to “bring me the ephod”. The ephod is the item covering the chest of the priest pictured above. Here is a definition from Harper’s Bible Dictionary:

Not simply a ceremonial garment or a divination device, the ephod can best be understood in relation to the special trappings that adorned cult statues in Mesopotamian or Egyptian temples and that, in Israelite religion as priestly garments or objects, similarly helped bring human beings into contact with the deity.

Most “clergy” of various religious traditions wear special garments to identify them. Lutheran clergy often wear clerical collars as do Catholics, Episcopalians, and others. If you know me, you know I don’t often wear clerical garb unless I’m wearing robes and such for a traditional worship service, or am presiding at a wedding or funeral. Otherwise you’ll usually see me in regular street clothes. Why? Well, there are a couple of reasons:

  1. Clerical garb is often uncomfortable. It generally involves wearing layers of clothing, which makes sense in colder climates but not in the warmer climate of Texas. I also don’t like the feel of a collar on my neck.
  2. While wearing clerical garb identifies me as a clergy person, it can also be off-putting to some people. It can be a barrier to communication.

As the definition above states, it’s not the ephod of the priest that gave him special powers any more than a clerical collar does for me. That said it obviously meant something to David because he specifically asked for the ephod to be brought to him. Has me thinking about my own practice of wearing or not wearing clerical garb.

Save me from… me.

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Now the Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, while the Israelites were encamped by the fountain that is in Jezreel. 2 As the lords of the Philistines were passing on by hundreds and by thousands, and David and his men were passing on in the rear with Achish, 3 the commanders of the Philistines said, “What are these Hebrews doing here?” Achish said to the commanders of the Philistines, “Is this not David, the servant of King Saul of Israel, who has been with me now for days and years? Since he deserted to me I have found no fault in him to this day.” 4 But the commanders of the Philistines were angry with him; and the commanders of the Philistines said to him, “Send the man back, so that he may return to the place that you have assigned to him; he shall not go down with us to battle, or else he may become an adversary to us in the battle. For how could this fellow reconcile himself to his lord? Would it not be with the heads of the men here? 5 Is this not David, of whom they sing to one another in dances,
‘Saul has killed his thousands,
and David his ten thousands’?”

6 Then Achish called David and said to him, “As the LORD lives, you have been honest, and to me it seems right that you should march out and in with me in the campaign; for I have found nothing wrong in you from the day of your coming to me until today. Nevertheless the lords do not approve of you. 7 So go back now; and go peaceably; do nothing to displease the lords of the Philistines.”

I have read this story many times and it’s always seemed strange to me that David appeared itching to go to war with the Philistines against Israel. Were David to have openly warred against his own people, there is no way he could then have served as their sovereign. Such a betrayal would never have been forgiven. For this reason alone it makes perfect sense that God would not allow David to go with Achish to war.

However today, maybe for the first time, I began to see why David would want to go. After all, King Saul was still at the head of the armies of Israel and had been pursuing David relentlessly for some time. Without cause! I imagine David was tired of running, tired of hiding, tired of being kept from his homeland and his people. Enough was enough. Time to take him out! Fortunately God intervened, saving David from his worst impulses.

God saved David from himself.

Dear Lord, as I read about David this morning I feel like I’m reading about myself, and the many times you have intervened to save me from my worst impulses. Continue to watch over me, Lord. Save me from… me. Amen.

There is a boy… with loaves and fish…

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Wine, loaves of bread and fresh fish in an old basket

John 6:1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

What got my attention this morning was the fact that the loaves and fish which were multiplied belonged to… a boy (v.9). What would you have done if they asked for your food – so 5,000 people could be fed? Would you have done what the boy did? I’m not sure I would have. I probably would have thought it a pointless gesture. No thanks, find another sucker. But apparently this is not what the boy did. Reminds me of Matthew 19:14,

 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Like others of you, I grew up in a home with minimal financial resources. We were always short of perceived need, scraping by. I’m quite sure, for at least a few of my childhood years, we lived below the poverty line. I can remember thinking how it was going to be different when I grew up. And for the most part it has been. When I was in seminary, and my wife Jana and I had two small children, resources were tight, but other than that the Lord has been very good to us.

And one of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn over the years, having grown up in a mindset of scarcity, it so live out of a mindset of abundance instead. There is always that impulse to hold tight (to money, time, whatever) instead of giving it away. A voice says in my head “What if you need this tomorrow? What if there’s not enough, then what are you going to do? Don’t just think of yourself, but think of your family. What about them?” You get the idea. You may know that voice as well.

So this morning I’m challenged by the boy in our passage. Lord children are wonderful, in part because they don’t over-think things. Give me a heart like this boy who trusted you with all he had. And you didn’t let him down. Teach me again and again to live in abundance instead of scarcity. Amen.

Taking it down a notch…

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1 Samuel 25:32 David said to (the wife of Nabal) Abigail, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today! 33 Blessed be your good sense, and blessed be you, who have kept me today from bloodguilt and from avenging myself by my own hand (by killing Nabal) ! 34 For as surely as the LORD the God of Israel lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there would not have been left to Nabal so much as one male.”

A wealthy man named Nabal (a name that means “fool”) had insulted David by treating him and his men unfairly. David was livid and headed out to kill Nabal and his entire household – a ridiculously severe response to the situation. Had David succeeded he would have been guilty of “bloodguilt” (v. 33) (the shedding of innocent blood) and would have been subject to punishment from God. Fortunately for David, Nabal’s wife Abigail headed him off.

Abigail reached David before David reached her husband Nabal. She brought gifts to David and his men and apologized profusely for her obstinate husband. In doing so she calmed David and prevented the death of her entire family (including herself).

Some people have a way of calming those who are anxious, turning things down a notch when it’s needed. In this case Abigail did so for David by offering a deep apology on her husband’s behalf and bringing gifts to David in order to right the wrongs of her husband. It was a smart and effective move for which David was grateful.

The passage reminds me there are times when I need persons like Abigail in my life. I occasionally get riled up and risk acting foolishly. So this morning I’m thanking the Lord for the “Abigails” in my life who keep me from my worst impulses.