One Day In the Temple

Luke 2:21-40 God’s Word to the Nations version

Eight days after his birth, the child was circumcised and named Jesus. This was the name the angel had given him before his mother became pregnant.  

After the days required by Moses’ Teachings to make a mother clean had passed, Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem. They took Jesus to present him to the Lord.  They did exactly what was written in the Lord’s Teachings: “Every firstborn boy is to be set apart as holy to the Lord.”  They also offered a sacrifice as required by the Lord’s Teachings: “a pair of mourning doves or two young pigeons.” 

 A man named Simeon (SIM e un)

was in Jerusalem. He lived an honorable and devout life. He was waiting for the one who would comfort Israel. The Holy Spirit was with Simeon and had told him that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah, whom the Lord would send. Moved by the Spirit, Simeon went into the temple courtyard. 

Mary and Joseph were bringing the child Jesus into the courtyard at the same time. They brought him so that they could do for him what Moses’ Teachings required. 

Then Simeon took the child in his arms and praised God by saying, “Now, Lord, you are allowing your servant to leave in peace as you promised.  My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people to see. He is a light that will reveal salvation to the nations and bring glory to your people Israel.”

 Jesus’ father and mother were amazed at what was said about him.  Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “This child is the reason that many people in Israel will be condemned and many others will be saved. He will be a sign that will expose the thoughts of those who reject him. And a sword will pierce your heart.”  

Anna, a prophet, was also there. She was a descendant of Phanuel

(FAE new uhl)

from the tribe of Asher. She was now very old. Her husband had died seven years after they were married, and she had been a widow for 84 years. Anna never left the temple courtyard but worshiped day and night by fasting and praying. At that moment she came up to Mary and Joseph and began to thank God. She spoke about Jesus to all who were waiting for Jerusalem to be set free.  After doing everything the Lord’s Teachings required, Joseph and Mary returned to their hometown of Nazareth in Galilee. The child grew and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was with him.


One Day In the Temple

Let us Pray.

I pray that, as the Lord guided Simeon by his spirit to seek out Jesus, the Messiah, he will guide us also.

Grant us also the same spirit that drove Anna to praise you and to speak about Jesus to all who are needing redemption. Amen.

 There is a lot of things going on in our gospel teaching.

Perhaps it will help to understand why Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the temple on that day.

Now one of the reasons NOT mentioned in the scriptures was the same reason WE bring OUR newborns to church. To show off this precious child, more beautiful than any other baby. Right mom? Right Grandma?

Fortunately for me, my two boys and two girls looked EXACTLY the same … in the face … as newborns, because — well because you can’t improve on perfection.

So I’m sure that this was also in the minds of the Holy Family as they came to present the child.

But they were also obeying the law of Moses. It was after the time for their purification.

This is the teaching portion of the sermon. There might be a test at the end, so pay attention.

Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day. 

I just saw a “cringe” on the faces of several men in the sanctuary.

The purpose of the ceremony of circumcision, which is an offering of blood, is to seal the covenant with the Almighty in the flesh so that it may never be violated. 

So sacred is this act that the child is not counted an Israelite until after the ceremony. It is during the ceremony that he is officially given his name, Jesus, as instructed by God.

Much like, through the sacrament of baptism, God’s Spirit initiates us into Christ’s holy church,

And the pastor invites the congregation to welcome the newly baptized by name.

You remember that last week pastor Michele said that, possibly, the reason that Mary was assigned to the stable to give birth was out of respect and caring for his other guests. If she had given birth in the house (or the inn) everyone there would have been, under the Law of Moses, ritually unclean for seven days.

Now concerning Mary.

The Law of Moses found in Leviticus 12:2-4

If a woman gives birth to a son, she will be unclean for seven days. For thirty-three days the mother will be in a state of blood purification. She must not touch anything holy or enter the sacred area until her time of purification is completed. 

I warned you that there might be a test.

  • Question one is a math problem. If Mary was unclean for 7 days and then in a state of purification for 33, how long did the holy family have to wait before coming to the Temple?
  • Answer: at least 41. It had to be after the 40th day.

It is customary for the mother to come to the synagogue on the Sabbath after her 40 days when she has regained her strength. 

So now we understand why it was said, when the fullness of time had come.

There was still one more ceremony to be observed. Jesus, the redeemer, had to be redeemed. This was the reason they were in the temple that day.

As a sign and remembrance of the Passover in Egypt when the lives of all Egyptian first born males died and the first born males of the Israelites were spared by the sprinkling of blood on the door posts. 

Y’all remember that, right? 

It won’t be on the test

Since that time, all first born males belong to God. 

You will remember, in the old testament, Hannah brought Samuel, once he was weened to the LORD’S temple to be dedicated to the LORD … for his whole life.

The parents could redeem, that is “buy back” their sons by an offering of silver coins to the temple. 

If a family, like Joseph and Mary, could not afford the silver. For the poor, an offering of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons was made.

Question how could they be poor? What about the myrrh, frankincense, and gold? How could they be poor?

Answer the magi did arrive with their gifts until Jesus was around 2 years old. 

Do you now understand how important this trip to the temple was to Joseph and Mary? 

Now, to see if you are listening.

Question:  Why were they in the temple that day?

Answer:  To redeem Jesus. I would also have given a ½ point for, to show off the baby.

They, as faithful Jews, expected and had made plans for the redemption of their first born Son.

In the last 40 days they had assumedly found a home (perhaps with relatives) in Bethlehem. Performed the circumcision on the 8th day. And Mary had gone through the purification required.

They had brought the sacrificial doves to redeem their son. 

Everything was going as expected.

And then — and then along came Simeon, who grabbed the baby from their hands and started a prophetic message.

You parents out there, do you remember how fragile your first born child seemed? Imagine some stranger taking that baby and saying, “Now, Lord, you are allowing your servant to leave in peace as you promised.”

I can imagine Joseph saying, “Now hold on, bub, you’re not leaving with my baby.”

Then Simeon might have said, “Joe, you have to understand that the Lord told me that in my lifetime the Messiah would be born, and your son is the salvation for everyone, for every nation, even a light of revelation to the Gentiles! I have waited a long time to see him with my own eyes.”

And then ,,,

And then Anna, a prophetess of advanced age, {married for 7 years and widowed for 84 years}. Now assuming that she was at least in her mid teens when married, she was well over 100 years old. And still waiting to give her prophetic message.

Anna came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Wow, things sure took a dramatic turn into the unexpected. I can almost hear Rod Sterling’s voice, “You are traveling through another dimension, your next stop, the Twilight Zone!” Do do dodo dodo dodo!

I know some of you are way too young to remember the old tv show, “The Twilight Zone.” 

But each episode began with, “This is a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.”

So I want you to use your imagination.

Here is the Life Application part of the message

Imagine with me for a moment, that you are in that time and that place. You are Mary or Joseph. What is going through your mind as you are confronted by these strangers? And strange they must have seemed.

Your mind races back to the angel visiting you, Mary. Or the Lord visiting you, Joseph, in a dream. 

The two of you sitting down and discussing among yourselves these strange and wonderful visitations. What does it all mean? 

As usual, the Lord does not fill in all the details for you. You must go forward in faith and wait for your questions to be answered in God’s time.

Over the next eight or nine months, your mind revisits those moments, but they seem to grow a little dimmer as you busy yourself with the things of everyday life, earning a living, preparing the house for the coming child, and then the command of the Roman occupiers of your land that you are required to make a 90 mile trek to Bethlehem, because some emperor in a far off land demands it. 

Grumble, grumble, explicative, explicative!!!

You arrive in Bethlehem, which is already overcrowded with other unhappy and weary travelers who also are venting their frustration and anger over this census and the already heavy taxes.

You are not terribly surprised to find that the Motel 6, Travel Lodge, and Marriott are filled with people, some even sleeping on couches in the lobby. But in the stable behind the Budget Inn you find a corner with some relatively clean straw.

And the baby comes: no hospital, no doctor, and no midwife. Just two first time parents who are feeling completely lost, confused, and inexperienced. 

But they make it through the birth and cleanup as best you can. At last they can rest.

Nope! Not just yet. Enter a crowd of shepherds. 

If the atmosphere in the stable was not – um – fragrant enough, with animals, 2 hot sweaty humans and the odors associated with birth, here arrive dirty unshaven men reeking of sheep.

They are so excited and talking over each other trying to tell of being visited by an army of angels.

The angels tell that the … long awaited … savior had been born … at last!

But those days have past …

 and here you are in the temple with Simeon and Anna making amazing declarations and predictions about your child.

This is the congregational participation portion of the sermon.

Put yourself in the sandals of Simeon or Anna. Many long years ago you had prayed that you would live to see the coming of the messiah.  That you would be present when Isaiah’s prophecy that “Blind people would see again, lame people would be walking, those with skin diseases could be made clean, deaf people could hear again, dead people would be brought back to life, and poor people hear the Good News.” (Matthew 11:5)

You were young with keen eyesight and a full head of dark hair. Now you are old. Not just old but very old. Your eyesight is weak, your hearing minimal and your once glorious hair is thin and white. 

And still you hold out hope that your prayer will be answered.

Now, look into your own heart, are there unanswered prayers there? Are you continuing to hope, to pray, and to patiently wait for the answer? Be honest with yourself. Have you given up hope because the prayer wasn’t answered on your schedule?

Okay, moving on to Mary and Joseph

What are you parents feeling? Confused, excited, overwhelmed?

Remember, Mary and Joe don’t yet know about the coming visit of the wisemen or running for their lives to Egypt. They can’t see the future that leads to the cross … and beyond. 

It’s probably a good thing that God doesn’t gift us with the ability to see our future or our children’s.

Take a deep breath and think, were Joseph and Mary’s lives really that much different than your own? 

Sure, you are not tasked with raising the Christ child, but haven’t you, aren’t you, or won’t you be raising each child without knowing what terrifying, wonderful, and amazing thing is going to happen next? 

Aren’t all of our lives filled with work, worry, stress, and anxiety?

Not so surprisingly, parent or not a parent you have those same unknowns. 

As I told the children, when we pray, God will answer. The answer may be Yes, it may be No, and hardest of all is when we are asked to Wait.


  1. Keep praying and believing
  2. Keep expecting and watching for the answer
  3. Don’t overlook the answer when it comes, it may not look like you expected.

We aren’t given the road map of our lives. We move forward one fearful, hesitant, brave, joyful, and faithful step at a time.

Hymn writer: Ira F. Stanphill expressed it this way

 🎶Many things about tomorrow

I don’t seem to understand

But I know who holds tomorrow

And I know who holds my hand🎶 – 

If you have believed in your heart and declared with your lips that Jesus is Lord of your life, then you know the destination even if you can’t see behind the curtains of time to where that next step will take you. You must wait for it to be revealed.

God has many mansions, one of them has a mailbox with your name on it. 

So rest assured that Jesus knows the way home,

and he holds your hands.

There is a sign post up ahead. Your next stop the kingdom of God.


Mark 4:35-41. That evening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus along in a boat just as he was. Other boats were with him. A violent windstorm came up. The waves were breaking into the boat so that it was quickly filling up. But he was sleeping on a cushion in the back of the boat. So they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to die?” Then he got up, ordered the wind to stop, and said to the sea, “Be still, absolutely still!” The wind stopped blowing, and the sea became very calm. He asked them, “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith yet?” They were overcome with fear and asked each other, “Who is this man? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”

I saw a couple of things that I don’t recall seeing before when I’ve read this passage. One was that there were other boats. The other thing that struck me was when it said, “They took Jesus just as he was.” What does that mean. Just as he was? Jesus had been preaching all day under the bright sunshine. He was probably hungry, and also sweaty and tired. “They took Jesus just as he was.” He was still in the same garments that he had worn in the heat of the day.

Now the sun was setting and the temperature was falling. Jesus had no robe to wear against the chill breeze that was pushed ahead of the storm. By laying in the bottom of the boat, he could avoid most of the wind. Tired as he was, he slept. He was traveling with men who were experienced fishermen. He trusted their ability to cross the sea.

A violent windstorm came up. I don’t know if this storm was a natural occurrence or the work of the evil one. Both are possibilities. Whatever the cause, this storm was so violent that these experience sailors were more than worried. They were terrified.

They saw Jesus sleeping and woke him. What did they expect of him? Did they just wake him to share I their panic, or to help pail water out of the boat? Clearly, they did not expect what happened next.

What happened next frightened them possibly more than the storm. He commanded the wind and the waves to stop, to become perfectly calm. And then … and then this man who spoke and wind and waves obeyed, looked each of them up and down and pronounced them to be cowards. “Don’t you have any faith yet?” These were his chosen. The men with which He would begin a spiritual revolution. How disappointing to realize that, in spite of his teaching and the mighty signs he had show them, they still lacked the faith that he would protect them.

Now we jump ahead a short time and witness another storm pin the sea.

Mark 6:45-52. Jesus quickly made his disciples get into a boat and cross to Bethsaida ahead of him while he sent the people away.

Jesus was not done serving the people, but it was getting late so he sent the disciples out onto the sea to Bethsaida to make the way ready for him.

After saying goodbye to them, he went up a mountain to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he was alone on the land.

Once everyone was gone, Jesus went up the mountain to pray. I would love to hear those prayers. When Jesus spoke to his father. I imagine it to be something like this, “Hey, papa, such men you gave me! Children, all of them! They make me laugh and they make me cry. I’ve told them in a hundred different ways what the future holds and what I expect of them. But they hear with their ears only. It’s not sinking in to true understanding. Look at them.

Jesus saw that they were in a lot of trouble as they rowed, because they were going against the wind.

Jesus continued his conversation with the father. Look at them. A short time ago they, in a different storm, were in such a panic they nearly wet themselves. But look. Though the wind and waves are again against them, this time they are battling on, pulling together on the oars. They don’t know it yet, by but the time is coming when they will need that perseverance. But I’d better go out there to them. Love you, Dad. Talk to you soon.

Between three and six o’clock in the morning, he came to them. He was walking on the sea. He wanted to pass by them. When they saw him walking on the sea, they thought, “It’s a ghost!” and they began to scream. All of them saw him and were terrified. Immediately, he said, “Calm down! It’s me. Don’t be afraid!” He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped blowing.

Can’t you just hear Jesus under his breath saying, “See, Dad? Children.”

It appears to me that, though Jesus was watching over them, it was his intent that they continue to struggle under their own power … or use the power he, had given them. The author said that they still did not understand, that their minds were closed.

How many storms in our lives do we have to go through before our minds are opened and we understand what Jesus is teaching us? We need not fear the storm, if we trust in him. If we truly trust in the Lord there are only two possibilities. He will either see us safely through life’s storms or he will call us home. That’s a win win.

©2021 Thomas E. Williams

Practicing Our Faith

Practicing Our Faith
Matthew 6:1-4, 16-21 (CEB)
By: Bishop Laurie Haller “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing 4 so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.”
16 “And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward. 17 When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. 18 Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19 Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. 20 Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. 21 Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Practicing Our Faith

I’ll never forget that morning. In 1993, my husband Gary and I were appointed to be co-pastors of First United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After twelve years of pastoring separately in different churches, Gary and I were going to be serving together. I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about being in a big steeple city church after serving much smaller churches.

On our first Sunday in July, our three children, who were going to enter sixth, fourth, and first grade, sat alone in the front pew of this large Gothic style sanctuary. After all, we didn’t know anyone yet, and that way we could keep an eye out on the kids. That was our first mistake. When the time came for the children to be introduced, they marched up the stairs to the chancel area, whereupon our middle child, Garth, started waving his hands to the congregation just like a politician. I could feel my face turning red with embarrassment. But that was nothing compared to Garth making a paper airplane from the church bulletin and flying it from the front pew during the sermon.

What does it mean to practice your religion in front of others? In our human quest to be acknowledged and recognized, how do we act? What is fame, anyway? What is success? What does it mean to be honored? Does it mean our name is splattered all over the tabloids? Does it mean that every action we take is scrutinized by an adoring public? Where should the reward for living a good life come from? From an adoring public, from our colleagues, or from the church?
And what about Lent? The six weeks preceding Easter are often seen as a time of not only giving up something for Lent, but more often adding something. Some people give up candy for Lent, or chocolate, or coffee, or desserts. Others fast on a certain day during Lent. The idea is that when we give up something that meaningful to us, we learn about spiritual disciplines.

On the other hand, some people add things to their lives during Lent. Perhaps it’s joining a short-term study group, reading through the gospels, visiting someone in a nursing home once a week, or giving extra money to a mission cause.
In Jesus’ day there were three great works of the religious life: almsgiving (or giving to the poor), prayer, and fasting. To the Jews, almsgiving was the most sacred of all religious duties. Jesus certainly does not dispute here that giving to the poor is important. What troubled Jesus was the motive of many of the Jews, who made a big show of giving their money in the synagogues so that others could see how much God had blessed them.

In the same way, it was tempting for the Jews to flaunt their prayer life, which was the second work of the religious life. Some liked to parade their righteousness publicly by praying on the street corners. This is how it was known that they were carrying out exactly what God wanted them to do.

And then there was fasting. The Jews fasted as a sign of mourning; in order to atone for sin; as an outward expression of an inward sorrow; and as a symbol of national penitence. Or they would fast in preparation for a revelation from God.
Could it be that Jesus wants us to learn from this scripture that we shouldn’t practice our religion in front of others in order to be recognized? What do you do in secret? Are you doing anything in secret? Are you pleasing God at all?

Henri Nouwen, who was one of the most perceptive spiritual writers of his time and was one of my professors at Yale Divinity School, wrote a book entitled Letters to Marc about Jesus. It was addressed to his 19-year-old nephew in Holland. Listen to what Nouwen wrote to Marc, “I don’t think you’ll ever be able to penetrate the mystery of God’s revelation in Jesus until it strikes you that the major part of Jesus’ life was hidden and that even the public years remained invisible as far as most people were concerned. Whereas the way of the world is to insist on publicity, celebrity, popularity, and getting maximum exposure, God prefers to work in secret. In God’s sight, the things that really matter seldom take place in public.”
As we enter the holy season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, how is God calling you to practice your faith? What spiritual disciplines might you embrace to help others claim the good news of Jesus Christ and seek treasures in heaven?

Let us pray. God, grant that we would discover the secret of living in your presence. Grant us wisdom and courage to yield to your intentions and purpose for our lives. Grant us insight to discern what is pleasing to you and give us strength to do it. Help us not to live glib and superficial lives but cleanse us by our confessions and make us worthy disciples, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

©2021 Bishop Laurie Haller

Living to benefit the Lord

Mark 8:34-38
When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

Heavenly Father, we worship and thank you, and we rejoice for this day that you have made.
Jesus, Son of God, we claim you and proclaim you as our Savior and our Lord.
Spirit of God descend upon us and help us to love God with our hearts, our minds and our soul.
What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
There was a young man in the 12th Century Italy, who was scared of losing his own soul because his father was rich, a textile businessman. This young man kept telling his friend, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and lose his own soul?” This young man took some of his father’s merchandise, sold them and tried to give the money to the priest to be given to the poor as needed. The father asked the church to discipline the young man. The young man appeared before the church authorities and his father. Instead of apologizing to his father, this young man removed all his clothes and gave them to his father. Totally naked he declared that from then on he will be a poor monk and the Heavenly Father shall be his provider. From his hometown’s porciuncula, or little church, he reached the world with his preaching and became to be known as St. Francis of Assisi. His disciples, the Franciscans, reached many nations around the world. Francis even preached to a Muslim leader in Egypt.
What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
I used to work as a manager of a Gold Mining Business in the Philippines. Working in the mountains is so complex which included dealing with illegal miners, rebels and the military operations. I knew I have seen hell when my wife and I almost died in one of the gun-battles. Our lives could have been wasted in search of gold. One director of the Mines Bureau told me, “There is no job worth dying for.”
I shared this with my father, Isaac Colorado. He himself gave up his military career for the sacrificial work of a pastor in the country. My father admired my professional job and he also said that the Mines Director may be correct, except for the evangelist’s job. He said that after dodging the bullets in the military service, God somehow showed him that there is a job really worth dying for—the salvation of the world. Its Jesus’ sacrificial job and we are invited to join this very humbling work. The apostle Paul expressed the concept for us, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)”
We are living in difficult times. Many lives are being lost. I pause and think and hope that it’s not too late to make use of our lives that benefits the Lord and our soul.
We need to care for ourselves and for each other. But let us not forget to keep the main thing as the main thing for the Church. Jesus the Christ is our Lord whose job was and is to save the whole world. I like the United Methodist Church because we can act locally and make an impact globally. Coming from the Philippines I see myself as an evidence that the global UMC system of American Methodist Mission works great. Let us not lose our great task of evangelizing the world. When we are able to save the soul of the world, we have practically saved our own.
Let us pray:
Make me a channel of your peace
Where there is hatred let me bring your love Where there is injury, your pardon Lord And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.
Make me a channel of your peace It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
In giving of ourselves that we receive.
And in dying that we are born to eternal life.
The love of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

©2021 By Rev. Dr. Moody Colorado, Northeast Iowa Region Superintendent

Knowing our Identity

Knowing our Identity
By: Rev. Melissa Drake, Southwest Iowa. Region Superintendent

Mark 1:9-13 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. 10. As Jesus came out of the water, he saw heaven split open and the Spirit coming down to him as a dove. 11. A voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love. I am pleased with you.” 12. At once the Spirit brought him into the desert, 13. where he was tempted by Satan for 40 days. He was there with the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.

We are in the first week of Lent—and this Sunday begins our journey of the next 40 days, leading the church up to Easter. The Lenten season is designed to be a mirror for us: it’s a way for us to witness to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, as he prepares to begin his ministry.

For Christians, Lent has historically been the yearly season for us to examine ourselves in that same mirror: to spend time in deep personal reflection and preparation as we get ready to commit ourselves to living into the way of Jesus: the way of his baptism, life, death and Resurrection.

For the church it is our season together of reflecting and preparing for the ministries of sharing the Good News of the Resurrection with the world that so desperately needs to hear and see and touch and feel that they are beloved of God.

Lent, this season always known for its austerity—the season where the days are getting longer, but not necessarily getting better—always begins this same way: with Jesus’ baptism and then immediate temptation out in the wilderness. And this year we hear from Mark, chapter 1, verses 9-13:
About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”
At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.

Lent always begins this very same way, and I think sometimes, we, in the church get obsessed over the temptation and the wilderness part, and not so much over the baptism and the naming and claiming part.

And this year of all years, it is a year for us to remember the naming and claiming part: The way the clouds split open and the sun must have been dazzling; the way the wind must have blown, maybe in that wild spring way that makes us adventurous and crazy and ready to go out in the world again, or maybe it blew in that soft spring way that wraps us in the warmth of better days coming; and then the voice. That voice coming from the heavens that says, “You are mine. You are beloved. In your very being I find happiness.”

As Bishop Laurie shared in her devotion last week, Lent has historically been a season to give something up: and that can be such a powerful discipline. We need this time to examine ourselves, to pay attention to what we need to give up and let go so that we can follow Jesus more nearly and dearly. This is a season of giving things up and letting things go as we practice our faith; but it’s also a season of holding on as well. Throughout his time in the wilderness,
Jesus held on to the identity and relationship with God that was so clearly expressed at his baptism.
Friends, as we recommit ourselves to living in the way of Jesus, we need this time of holding on as well. A holding on to what cannot be changed, but what can so easily be forgotten or overshadowed or lost: that deep KNOWING of identity: that deep knowing of belovedness. That deep knowing of relationship, of who we are and who we belong to. And that deep knowing of being absolutely enough, at our very core, for God to delight in us without having to produce anything or accomplish anything.
What would happen to our church communities if we spent the next 40 days holding on to this identity, within our own spirts, during our own times of temptations that tell us that we aren’t enough. That other people have it more and better. That if only we worked a little harder, we’d be more worthy.

And I wonder, what would it be like in our church communities, if we could do this for each other, even in these longer days that don’t always seem to be getting better? If all of our words and all of our work in the next 40 days were about reminding each other, showing each other that we are beloved of God—to remind each other that there is nothing, neither height, nor depth, nor zoom church, nor sub zero temperatures, there is neither pandemic, nor politics, nor temptations or just plain old fatigue that can separate us from the love of our God. And our care for each other.

Friends, this is the promise we made to each other at our baptisms: this is our work of the church: to be connected together. To watch over one another in love. To remind each other of who and whose we are. So that, out of our union with Christ, in his baptism of death and resurrection, we can take this good news out into the world and say and show: World: you, too, are God’s beloved.
May you be blessed; may you hold on.

And may “The God of all grace, who has called us to eternal glory in Christ, establish you and strengthen you by the power of the Holy Spirit that you may live in grace and peace. Amen.” (Baptismal Covenant II, UMH pg. 39).

©2021 Rev. Melissa Drake


Jonah Chapter One

1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep. 6 The captain came and said to him, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.”

7 The sailors said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 “I am a Hebrew,” he replied. “I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

17  But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.


One of my favorite bible verses is Romans 8:28 “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God–those whom he has called according to his plan.” The book of Jonah is proof of Romans 6:28. Throughout the four chapters of Jonah, his failures become God’s triumphs.

I’ve often referred to Jonah as the world’s worst prophet. However, the spirit has led me to understand that, in truth, he was one of the most successful of all the prophets … through no fault of his own.

There is a lot of debate about Jonah’s story.  Is it to be taken literally or is it an illustrative story? If you believe it is literal, there are some strange, improbable portions that defy logic. However, as Jesus said in Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Is it literal or an allegory? I don’t know and I don’t care. The lessons taught and learned from the book reveal what is possible when God intervenes in a persons life.

  1. Observe. God said to Jonah “Go at once to Nineveh”, Go at once. Go now. There is a urgency expressed here.
  2. Nineveh, that great city” was an Assyrian city. They were enemies of the Israelites.
  3. Cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.”  The Assyrians weren’t just enemies of Israil, they were enemies of God.

In point number one we can see that God has a timetable. Go at once. God had prepared the Ninevehites to be receptive to Jonah’s message. Much like Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:2b, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”  This begs the question, “What happens if His timetable is missed?” 

We know that God is a God of second chances. You remember the story of the Israelies fleeing Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, and wandering the desert for forty years, right? Well, the forty years of wandering was a second chance. To start with the Jews went straight to the Promised Land in about six weeks. This was God’s original plan. The land and its people had been made ready by God for the jews to move in and unpack. Forty years later they are given a second chance. But this time they would have to fight for the land.

I look at my own life and wonder how many chances for salvation I had passed up, before turning my will over to God? How many times have you heard. God’s invitation and turned a deaf ear to it? How many times did the people of Noah’s time hear and turn away before God said, “Enough is enough!” God declared way back in Genesis “My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. (New Living Translation) 

We must understand – listen – listen – this is important – your very eternal life depends upon it – though God is a God of loving forgiveness, and grace, He is also a God of justice. The unrepentent will be cut off from life.

Point number two and three – Nineveh, was an Assyrian city. They were enemies of the Israelites. Why would God warn Israel’s enemies? Why would God warn His enemies? Remember just a couple minutes ago when I said, “God is a God of loving forgiveness, and grace, He is also a God of justice”? That love, grace, and justice extends to all of His children – and we are all of us His children. Remember God the Son said in Matthew 5:44 “But I tell you, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” This is more than Gods will, it is God’s very nature. 

God grants us grace upon grace — but — at some point — He will apply justice to those who refuse to accept His grace. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23

Now back to our story. God told Jonah to go and go now. Well, Joe went alright. He went down and booked passage on a ship headed in the opposite direction — away from Nineveh — and, in Joe’s mind — away from God.

Of course you know why he ran from Nineveh. It was the capital of Israel’s enemies. Joe knew that if he took his ol’ Israeli self to that city and say what God wanted him to say, they would kill him. 

Now, about that running from God thing. You and I understand how futile that is, right? God, the creator and sustainer of everything, is everywhere. The psalmest wrote, “Where can I go to get away from your Spirit? Where can I run to get away from you? If I go up to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in hell, you are there. If I climb upward on the rays of the morning sun or land on the most distant shore of the sea where the sun sets, even there your hand would guide me and your right hand would hold on to me.” – Psalms 139:7-10 That psalm was written many years before Jonah was even born. 

Even so, in that age, the belief was that Yahweh was the God of Israel — and only Israel. Other nations had their own gods – false gods with a small g. The general belief was that the great I AM lived in the temple in Jerusalem. He only dealt with other nations if it impacted the land of Israel. Jonah was about to get a lesson in the true universal sovereignty of God. 

Joe was asleep in the bottom of the ship and a frightful storm came up. A storm so great that the crew began throwing things overboard to lighten the load and let the ship ride higher and, hopefully, keep the waves from swamping the ship.

Each of them, sailor and passenger began praying to their various small g gods. All except Jonah, who was asleep in the bottom of the ship.

When every thing that could be thrown into the stormy sea, had been thrown overboard, they began looking at each other. Can’t you just imagine that moment when they realized that it was time to start tossing people into the sea? That little light bulb in their mind clicked on and understanding shown in their eyes. Slowly they backed away from each other. Now there was social distancing! Backing as far apart as they could on the small ships deck and all the while keeping eyes on each other. Who would be the forest to go? I’m sure it was the heaviest man that came up with the idea to draw straws or roll the dice.

That’s when Joe, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, came onto the deck. The dice were cast and Joe lost the roll. 

Accepting that the gods had chosen Jonah, various ones of them asked him, “Are you the one who has caused us all this trouble?” “What work do you do?” “Where are you coming from?” “What country and what people-group do you belong to?”

These men were sure that it was Joe’s fault but they wanted to know the “who, what, when, where, and most importantly why?” They didn’t want to be quilt of condemning an innocent man.

Jonah confessed that he was trying to escape from the One True God, creator of sky, earth, and sea; because he didn’t want to do what he had been commanded to do.

After the sailors heard that, they were terrified. So they asked him, “Do you realize what trouble you have caused?”  The storm kept getting worse and the waves kept getting bigger. So one of the sailors asked Jonah, “What should we do in order to make the sea become calm?”  He replied, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. If you do that, it will become calm. I know that this terrible storm is the result of my not doing what God told me to do.” 

Even then the sailors did not want to anger Jonah’s God. Instead, they tried hard to row the ship back to the land. But they could not do that, because the storm continued to get worse. 

Now listen closely to this part of the story. This is why I’ve changed my mind about Jonah being the worst prophet.

Then they (all of them) cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.”

Do you see? Do you understand what happened here? These people of various nationalities, prayed to God, the One God, the True God, the All Powerful God. Saying, please do not let us drown because of our causing this man to die. O Yahweh, you have done what you wanted to do. We do not know if this man has sinned or if he has not sinned. But, please, do not consider us guilty of sinning against you, when we cause him to die!”

All of these men prayed to God that he would forgive them for sacrificing Jonah.

Then they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea. When the sea became calm, the sailors became greatly awed at God’s mighty power. So they offered a sacrifice to him, and they strongly promised him that they would do things that would please him.

Does that sound like repentance and conversion to you? It sounds like repentance and conversion to me!

Jonah, having confessed his sin, testified about God Almighty. Because of this, these men witnessed and became believers who promised from that moment on to please God.

Even a weak kneed cowardly person like Jonah can be used of God to expand his kingdom.

Oh yes, at the end of chapter one, Jonah became fish food as the he’s swallowed by a large fish. Want the rest of the story? It’s right there in the book of Jonah.

Here are the take aways from today’s lesson.

  1. God may call on anyone at anytime
  2. God has a time table
  3. God prefers grace to justice
  4. There is an unknown limit to the number of times grace will be given
  5. If grace is refused. Justice will be applied.
  6. You can not run from, or hide from God.
  7. Good can use either or both our obedience and disobedience.
  8. Be careful or you may become fish-food.

This bears repeating: God grants us grace upon grace — but — at some point — He will apply justice to those who refuse to accept His grace. 

The bad news, 

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23

The good news,

“But to all who believed him (Jesus) and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12

I don’t know what will be your Nineveh. I do know that God has a job for each of his children. When you are given your task, 

Turn aside, neither to the right, nor to the left; yet turn your foot away from evil. For the Lord knows the ways that are on the right, and truly, those that are on the left are perverse. But he himself will make your courses straight. Then your journey will advance in peace. – Proverbs 4:27


©2021 Thomas E Williams