Where Can I Be A Gate?

  • Exodus 32:1-14

When the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. They said to him, “We don’t know what has happened to this Moses, who led us out of Egypt. Make gods who will lead us.” Aaron said to them, “Have your wives, sons, and daughters take off the gold earrings they are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their gold earrings and handed them to Aaron. After he had worked on the gold with a tool, he made it into a statue of a calf. Then they said, “Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of it and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival in the LORD’s honor.” Early the next day the people sacrificed burnt offerings and brought fellowship offerings. Afterward, they sat down to a feast, which turned into an orgy. The LORD said to Moses, “Go back down there. Your people whom you brought out of Egypt have ruined everything. They’ve already turned from the way I commanded them to live. They’ve made a statue of a calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it. They’ve said, ‘Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.'” The LORD added, “I’ve seen these people, and they are impossible to deal with. Now leave me alone. I’m so angry with them I am going to destroy them. Then I’ll make you into a great nation.” But Moses pleaded with the LORD his God. “LORD,” he said, “why are you so angry with your people whom you brought out of Egypt using your great power and mighty hand? Don’t let the Egyptians say, ‘He was planning all along to kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth. That’s why he brought them out of our land.’ Don’t be so angry. Reconsider your decision to bring this disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. You took an oath, swearing on yourself. You told them, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. I will give to your descendants all the land I spoke of. It will be their permanent possession.'” So the LORD reconsidered his threat to destroy his people.

  • Philippians 4:1-9

So, brothers and sisters, I love you and miss you. You are my joy and my crown. Therefore, dear friends, keep your relationship with the Lord firm! I encourage both Euodia and Syntyche to have the attitude the Lord wants them to have. Yes, I also ask you, Syzugus, my true partner, to help these women. They fought beside me to spread the Good News along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers, whose names are in the Book of Life. Always be joyful in the Lord! I’ll say it again: Be joyful! Let everyone know how considerate you are. The Lord is near. Never worry about anything. But in every situation let God know what you need in prayers and requests while giving thanks. Then God’s peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard your thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable. Practice what you’ve learned and received from me, what you heard and saw me do. Then the God who gives this peace will be with you.

Where Can I Be A Gate?

Our scripture readings both deal with intercession. In simple terms a person who intercedes stands between two opposing forces and brings peace and protection. I was reminded that at one point Christ referred to himself as the gate in a sheep hold. He stood between the sheep and the wild animals and thieves who would come to do harm to the sheep. This is intercession.

Our message from the Hebrew Bible is an interesting story that has so many possible sermons in it. We could talk about how quickly these people turned their backs on the God who saved them from slavery. We could build a sermon around Aaron who so easily gave in to the pressure of the people. We could focus on the righteous wrath of God toward this ungrateful congregation of freed slaves. However, the thing that jumped out at me years ago when I first read this account was that Moses argued with God and God relented!

Let us take a look here starting in verse 7 “God said to Moses, “Go back down there. Your people whom you brought out of Egypt have ruined everything.”

Did you catch that? God told Moses “YOUR people whom YOU brought out of Egypt”

I want to ask the parents in the crowd to ‘fess up to something. When the kids have just done something that just got on your last nerve, have you turned to your spouse and said, “YOUR kids are driving me nuts!” Not MY kid or OUR kids but YOUR kids.

God is saying that they’ve already turned from the way He commanded them to live. They’ve made a statue of a calf for themselves. They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it. They’ve already made idols for themselves and said, ‘Israel, here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.’ ”

God is saying to Moses, “You haven’t even had a chance to take them the commandments that I’ve given you and they’ve already broken three of them! “I’ve seen these people, and they are impossible to deal with.

They are impossible to deal with! I have four children of my own. I love them each dearly. I remember telling someone that I wouldn’t take a million dollars for any one of them. However there are days I would have given you the SET for free! That is not true of coarse but, in a way, I can relate to the frustration that God is feeling. Here He is just moments from fulfilling everything that He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Here is the NATION that God had said would come from their seed. This plan had been in process for over four hundred years. In just a short time they would reach the promised land. Land that God had made rich for them (remember “a land flowing with milk and honey”?).

God had brought Moses to the mountain to give them ten laws (the shortest list of laws that any nation has ever had to live by) and during that very time, they had turned to worshiping a god created by their own hands. No wonder God was saddened and disappointed by this ungrateful and unfaithful mob of people.

God’s plan had been irreversible changed by the very nation that He had brought into existence. He was ready to go to plan B. So He said, “Now leave me alone. I’m so angry with them I am going to destroy them.”

Gasp! What? But God is a loving God who is willing to forgive over and over and over! (Remember Jesus saying to Peter that he had to be willing to forgive 70×7 times 490)

Yes He is. However, He has limits. Remember the story of Noah begins with God saying nearly the same thing. The people have become so far gone that He decides to tear it all down and start over – again! He had been pushed past Phili490th time!

Then God promises Moses the same thing that He had told Abraham, then Isaac and then Jacob; “I’ll make YOU into a great nation.”

Moses could have done the same thing that his ancestors did, accept the covenant from God. But instead Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. He becomes the gate between God and the nation of Israel when he said, “why are you so angry with your people whom you brought out of Egypt using your great power and mighty hand?”

Moses reminded God that it was God and not he, Moses, who brought these people out of Egypt.

Don’t let the Egyptians say, ‘He was planning all along to kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth. That’s why he brought them out of our land.’ Don’t be so angry. Reconsider your decision to bring this disaster on your people.

Moses said to God, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. You took an oath, swearing on yourself. You told them, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. I will give to your descendants all the land I spoke of. It will be their permanent possession.’ ”

Moses reminded God that it was God who had made the original covenant and then repeated it to successive generations of Abraham’s line. This was not a contract that men had made with God. This was a contract that God had made with men and could not be broken.

So the Lord reconsidered his threat to destroy his people.

God reconsidered. God relented because Moses interceded for the people. This vast multitude of people would have perished without the persistent prayer of this one man. God listened.

In the new testament reading Paul asks the congregation at Philipi to keep their relationship with the Lord firm! And he encouraged both Euodia and Syntyche to have the attitude the Lord wants them to have.

There was a division in this church that was destroying it. God’s plan for this people was in jeopardy of being destroyed by the people themselves.

Paul intercedes and becomes an advocate on behalf of the whole congregation by reminding the ‘combatants’ to be open to the love that God intends them of have. He is asking them to look past their differences and remember that they are both children of God and should love each other as family.

Then Paul gives them guidelines on how to achieve this harmony. He says, “Always be joyful in the Lord!” That is so important that he repeats it by saying, “I’ll say it again: Be joyful!’ Remember the image of the gate on the sheep hold? Paul is standing between the sheep and the wolf and saying, “Be joyful in the Lord!” What amazing insight! How can there be conflict where there is the joy of the Lord?

So step one is joy. Step two is being considerate. Being considerate means that you look at the situation from the other person’s point of view. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Now step three is never worry about anything. You know what worry is? Worry is the interest that the Devil charges on a debt you don’t owe. Worry is nonproductive waste of time and energy.

It is easy to say, “Don’t worry.” But how do we do that? Paul explains, “In every situation let God know what you need in prayers and requests while giving thanks.” Turn it over to God. Leave it in His hands and trust that He will turn it to good.

Here is the good news. If we follow these simple steps, then God’s peace, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard our thoughts and emotions through Christ Jesus.

Paul’s final thoughts on this conflict resolution are, “keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable.”

As you read the Bible it is very easy to find examples of people of God stepping into situations where they became the gate between warring people and factions and brought about a peaceful settlement; examples where righteous people have provided shelter for the weak and guidance to the hurtful.

In my own life I can think of times when someone has stepped in to do intercessory work on my behalf. I’m sure that you can think of examples in your life also

We know that we have an intercessor in Jesus Christ who sits at the right hand of God and acts as an advocate for us. This same Christ commands that we do the same for others. We are to be the bringers of peace and love to the world. We need to look for opportunities to be gates in the sheep hold. Amen

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The Long Sabbath

THE LONG SABBATHExodus 31:14-1714. “‘Make the Sabbath a special day. If someone treats the Sabbath like any other day, that person must be killed. Whoever works on the Sabbath day must be separated from their people. 15. There are six other days in the week for working. But the seventh day is a very special day of rest. That is the special day to honor the LORD. Anyone who works during the Sabbath must be killed. 16. The Israelites must remember the Sabbath and make it a special day. They must continue to do this forever. It is an agreement between them and me that will continue forever. 17. The Sabbath will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever.’” (The LORD worked six days and made the sky and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and relaxed.)I know that many people myself included, if we remember the Ten Commandments at all, we remember the “short” version.

  1. You shall have no other Gods before me
  2. You shall not make for yourselves an idol
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy
  5. Honor your father and your mother
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not give false testimony
  10. You shall not covet

The short version is easier to remembered and to forget.Now, wait a minute, let’s back up a might. But not all the way to Adam and Eve, just to Abram. You will remember God told him to leave his home and go where God would lead him.Because Abraham loved God, and because God loved Abraham, He made an eternal convenient with him. “I will give you and your descendants the land in which you are immigrants, the whole land of Canaan.” (From Genesis chapter 17)God promised a goodly size chunk of real estate to Abram and his descendents. Way cool, huh? All Abraham had to do was wander around on it for awhile ~ well, the rest of his life actually. Kind of like the earliest settlers did round about here. They just rode around pointing at stuff and saying, “That’s mine, and that’s mine, and so’s that.” Sort of like a dog or cat marking their territory.Anyway, there was this land without any clearly defined boarders, that his descendents did indeed live on. There weren’t really enough of his kin to call them a nation. There were barely enough to call them a tried. Mostly, they were just an extended family.What’s that I hear? Did someone out there just mumble, “What’s all this got to do with a long Sabbath?” Trust me, I’m getting there. And it’s a straight line too.Okay, where were we? Oh yeah, Abraham’s heirs were living together occupying a chunk of land, not yet named Israel. Maybe it was about the size of a large ranch. They raised livestock sheep, goats, camels, and possibly cattle. And they did okay until a drought hit the land.Then in one of those bad luck turned to good luck things that God loves to use, (start reading in Genesis chapter 37 for that story) they moved to Egypt. They were welcomed to Egypt and even given a fair size peace of land on which to live.Time went by, a lot of time. The family grew. This once beget that one, who begat another, and, well there was a whole lot of begeting going on.A new pharaoh came to power who recognized that, what had been a family, had grown into a separate nation within his boarders. And he didn’t take kindly to them. They were enslaved.Moses comes along and leads these descents of Abraham out into the dessert. Now God is ready to forge these former slaves into a true nation. And the first thing they need is a set of laws on how to behave toward God and toward themselves. And right about the middle of these laws is God’s gift to His followers. This is the law of the Sabbath.You were beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get back to that, weren’t you?God felt that this law was so important that He put some “teeth” in it. His people were to observe a day of rest once every seven days. On this day They were/are to honor God.How many of you seasoned citizens remember when most businesses closed on Saturday and Sunday? Families went together to church. Perhaps the Sunday midday meal was something special.Something happened. Some business decided he could squeeze out an extra dollar if he was open on Sunday. His competitors couldn’t let him get ahead of them. So They started being open also.This meant that dad or mom or dad and mom were working instead of worshipping together. Organized sporting events for the children and the professionals proliferated.We lost our Sabbath, our God given ~ God demanded ~ day of rest.I will not echo things I’ve read online that claim this pandemic is a plague caused by God. But I will suggest that God can use this time of withdrawal and isolation as a L-O-N-G Sabbath. A time to draw back from the busyness of life, to reconnect with family and with God.Amen.

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Halakha (Jewish law), especially the Talmud tractate Shabbat, identifies thirty-nine categories of activity prohibited on Shabbat (Hebrew: ל״ט אבות מלאכות, lamed tet avot melakhot), and clarifies many questions surrounding the application of the biblical prohibitions. Many of these activities are also prohibited on the Jewish holidays listed in the Torah, although there are significant exceptions permitting carrying and preparing food under specific circumstances.

There are often disagreements between Orthodox Jews and Conservative Jews or other non-Orthodox Jews as to the practical observance of Shabbat. It is of note that the (strict) observance of Shabbat is often seen as a benchmark for orthodoxy and indeed has legal bearing on the way a Jew is seen by an orthodox religious court regarding their affiliation to Judaism.

“Peace, Be Still”

Read Psalm 4 and Luke 10:38-42*

Sermon: “Peace, Be Still”

As they were traveling along, Jesus went into a village. A woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. I can almost hear you say “What a minute, Tom, we know this story. Marthaa too busy and Mary got the good stuff.”

Yes, on the surface, that is as good of a summery as any. But is that all there is to this story? Can we not learn anything more?

I have heard plenty of sermons asking me to decide if I am a Martha, a person too busy with the cares of the world; or a Mary, the quiet, contemplative, lover of Jesus. Well, my answer has always been, “Yes”.

Yes, I am each of those things at different times.

However, when I read this passage now, I understand more about what is happening here. That is one of the marvels of scripture reading, the more you read, them more you see. Like a flower opening its petals, it slowly opens to your heart and mind.

It all started when Jesus came to Bethany, to visit the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. They had become cherished personal friends of Jesus during His earthly ministry. He had a profound love for their family, and it’s clear from Luke’s account that Jesus made Himself at home in their house.

Certainly hospitality was a special hallmark of this family. Martha in particular is portrayed everywhere as a meticulous hostess. The fact that her name was usually listed first whenever she’s named with her siblings implies strongly that she was the elder sister of Mary and Lazarus. She as the eldest would have taken on the role of caretaker for her sister and brother.

First of all it appears that it is Martha’s home. Nowhere in the story does it say that Mary lived there with Martha. It would have been a common thing for unmarried sisters to live together. However it would have been equally common that they have separate homes. I have also heard sermons that say this is their brother Lazareth’s home. However, when I read John 11:1 we find, “Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, the village where Mary and her sister Martha lived, was sick.” To me, that just says that the sisters and their brother lived in the same town. So, if indeed this was Martha’s home, it changes the dynamics of the story slightly.

However, whether she owned the home or was just the one who managed the home, it was Martha who invited Jesus into her home. This was her service to him. By inviting the Master into her home she had accepted the hosting responsibilities implied in the invitation.

Jesus had come at Martha’s invitation. She was the one who welcomed Him in, signifying that she was the actual master of ceremonies in this house. On this occasion, at least, she wasn’t merely filling in as a surrogate hostess for a friend; she was plainly the one in charge of the household. She fussed over her hostess duties. She wanted everything to be just right. She was a conscientious and considerate hostess, and these were admirable traits. Much in her behavior was commendable.

When I read this passage, I am often reminded of my first mother in law. She was a loving, giving, Christian woman who had a real gift for giving of herself, her time and everything she owned. When describing her, I usually say, “She was the type of woman where, if you knocked on her door to sell magazines, she would invite you in. And the following scene would unfold: “Here sit down, you look hot and tired. Would you like some water? Or I have some pop. Or I could make coffee. Would you like a sandwich, I have leftover ham.”

She sounds like a delight doesn’t she? Amen? She was. However, it could be slightly frustrating when you came to visit her. She was so busy being the hostess, that you couldn’t get her to sit still and talk with you. I think of Martha in that way.

Martha wasn’t the only person that scriptures say invited Jesus into their homes. So perhaps we should take at those times and compare and contrast the other invitations with Martha’s. In Luke 14:7-11 Jesus attends a banquet in the home of a prominent Pharisee and teaches a lesson about proper guest etiquette.

“Then Jesus noticed how the guests always chose the places of honor. So he used this illustration when he spoke to them: “When someone invites you to a wedding, don’t take the place of honor. Maybe someone more important than you was invited. Then your host would say to you, ‘Give this person your place.’ Embarrassed, you would have to take the place of least honor. So when you’re invited, take the place of least honor. Then, when your host comes, he will tell you, ‘Friend, move to a more honorable place.’ Then all the other guests will see how you are honored. Those who honor themselves will be humbled, but people who humble themselves will be honored.”

Having now schooled the guests on proper behavior, he does the same for the Pharisee in verses 12-14

“Then he told the man who had invited him, “When you invite people for lunch or dinner, don’t invite only your friends, family, other relatives, or rich neighbors. Otherwise, they will return the favor. Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the handicapped, the lame, and the blind. Then you will be blessed because they don’t have any way to pay you back. You will be paid back when those who have God’s approval come back to life.”

Now that we have heard Jesus’ teaching, let’s look at what was going on in Martha’s home. Has she invited those who can return the favor?

No. She has invited Jesus. By extension, we can assume that his disciples were also present. Remember the scriptures says, “As they were traveling along”. Jesus was an itinerant preacher with no permanent home. Luke 9:58 and Matthew 8:20 say, “Jesus told him, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to sleep.” While it is possible that some of the disciples had homes in the area, we must remember that when Jesus called them, they dropped what they were doing and followed. Even if the disciples weren’t actually homeless, they were without income. They were living on the charity of others. So Jesus and his followers were not in a position to repay Martha by inviting her to dine with them.

Jesus, as the guest was seated in the honored place. Not because he chose it but because it was offered.

I find it enlightening that the customs of the time held that women’s legal rights were categorized along with Gentiles, minors, deaf-mutes and “undesirables” such as gamblers, the insane, usurers, and pigeon-racers.” One of these days I want to know more about those sinful pigeon-racers. But that is a study for another time.

The point is, for Jesus to accept her offer, meant that he was once again breaking the traditions and teachings of the religious leaders of the day. Just as He did when in Mark 2:14-16 we read, “When Jesus was leaving, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting in a tax office. Jesus said to him, “Follow me!” So Levi got up and followed him. Later Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house. Many tax collectors and sinners who were followers of Jesus were eating with him and his disciples. When the experts in Moses’ Teachings who were Pharisees saw him eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

This, most likely, was Martha’s life. Everything revolved around caring for the home. It was both her treasure and her prison because “In those times, respectable women were expected to stay within the confines of the home. “The woman of the first century did not even do her own shopping, except possibly to go out, accompanied by a slave, to buy material which she would use to construct her own clothing at home! Customarily, even a woman of stature could not engage in commerce and would rarely be seen outside her home. Only a woman in dire economic straits, who was forced to become the family breadwinner, could engage in her own small trade. If a woman was ever in the streets, she was to be heavily veiled and was prohibited from conversing with men. “It is the way of a woman to stay at home and it is the way of a man to go out into the marketplace” (J)

Now we know that Martha had a sister named Mary. and we know that Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to him talk. It is believed that this is the same event that is described in John 12:1-8.

Six days before Passover, Jesus arrived in Bethany. Lazarus, whom Jesus had brought back to life, lived there. Dinner was prepared for Jesus in Bethany. Martha served the dinner, and Lazarus was one of the people eating with Jesus.

Mary took a bottle of very expensive perfume made from pure nard and poured it on Jesus’ feet. Then she dried his feet with her hair. The fragrance of the perfume filled the house.

One of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was going to betray him, asked, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for a high price and the money given to the poor?” (Judas didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the moneybag and carried the contributions.) Jesus said to Judas, “Leave her alone! She has done this to prepare me for the day I will be placed in a tomb. You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me with you.”

Some scholars believe that Mary was also the woman at the Pharisee’s house in Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. Jesus went to the Pharisee’s house and was eating at the table.

A woman who lived a sinful life in that city found out that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house. So she took a bottle of perfume and knelt at his feet. She was crying and washed his feet with her tears. Then she dried his feet with her hair, kissed them over and over again, and poured the perfume on them.

The Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw this and thought, “If this man really were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner.”

Jesus spoke up, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

Simon replied, “Teacher, you’re free to speak.”

So Jesus said, “Two men owed a moneylender some money. One owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other owed him fifty. When they couldn’t pay it back, he was kind enough to cancel their debts. Now, who do you think will love him the most?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.”

Jesus said to him, “You’re right!” Then, turning to the woman, he said to Simon, “You see this woman, don’t you? I came into your house. You didn’t wash my feet. But she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You didn’t give me a kiss. But ever since I came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You didn’t put any olive oil on my head. But she has poured perfume on my feet. That’s why I’m telling you that her many sins have been forgiven. Her great love proves that. But whoever receives little forgiveness loves very little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” The other guests thought, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?”

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace!”

If this indeed the same woman, why was she said to be “A woman who lived a sinful life”? Remember that I said earlier that a woman’s place was in the house … literally. Respectable women did not leave the house. Yet Mary is known to have left the house. The terminology used in that day for a prostitute was “one who goes abroad”.

After their brother, Lazareth had died, Martha went to Jesus to tell him not to bother because it was too late. Jesus has this to say in John 11:25-40 Jesus said to (Martha), “I am the one who brings people back to life, and I am life itself. Those who believe in me will live even if they die.26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe that?”
27 Martha said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who was expected to come into the world.”

28 After Martha had said this, she went back home and whispered to her sister Mary, “The teacher is here, and he is calling for you.”

Several things catch my attention here that shed more light on the differences and similarities with the sisters. Martha is the one who goes to Jesus and tells him that Lazareth is already dead. It was her responsibility as the head of the house. After all, she was the one who had sent the message asking Jesus to come and heal her brother. As the eldest, she could have told Mary to go and give the bad news that Lazareth had died. Instead she made the journey herself. Then after Jesus hears her confession that she believes He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who was expected to come into the world, she goes home and tells Mary to go.

29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Jesus. 30 (Jesus had not yet come into the village but was still where Martha had met him.) 31 The Jews who were comforting Mary in the house saw her get up quickly and leave. So they followed her. They thought that she was going to the tomb to cry.

Mary had stayed behind at the house with the mourners and then went running out. It is helpful to understand the traditional rituals and observances at the time of a Jewish death.

“Traditionally, a person is buried the same day as his or her death, followed by seven days of mourning. A special meal of condolence is provided after the burial. Mourners remain in the house of mourning with friends and family throughout the week. Prayers are offered, and readings from the Torah are shared. Memorial candles are often lit. Traditional grooming stops, as do marital relations, entertainment, and regular study. In some cases, mourners wait 30 days before cutting their hair.

The New Testament speaks of mourners’ loud wailing. For example, when Jesus came to the home of the synagogue ruler whose daughter had died, He “saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly” (Mark 5:38). This took place on the same day as the girl’s death, as her body was still inside the home.

Mourning sometimes included shaving one’s head or putting ashes or dust on the head, in addition to rending garments. These actions communicated to everyone that the person was in mourning. Jeremiah 25:34 mentions the actions of a mourner in a judgment on evil rulers: “Weep and wail, you shepherds; roll in the dust, you leaders of the flock. For your time to be slaughtered has come.”(g)

So Mary has run from the house of mourning and gone to Jesus.

32 When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Notice how strongly she believes in Jesus power.

33 When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who were crying with her, he was deeply moved and troubled.

34 So Jesus asked, “Where did you put Lazarus?”

They answered him, “Lord, come and see.”

35 Jesus cried. 36 The Jews said, “See how much Jesus loved him.” 37 But some of the Jews asked, “Couldn’t this man who gave a blind man sight keep Lazarus from dying?”

38 Deeply moved again, Jesus went to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone covering the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Take the stone away.”

Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Jesus, “Lord, there must already be a stench. He’s been dead for four days.”

40 Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see God’s glory?”

From these glimpses into the lives of these two women it is easy to see that they both loved the Lord. Each in their own way honored him. It is also easy to see the differences. Martha was a thinker and a doer. Mary was ruled more by her heart and more emotional.

It was these differences that are in play here when we read, “But Martha was upset about all the work she had to do. So she asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to help me.”

Notice in the next verse how gently Jesus answers Martha. It is not a condemnation for her service to him. It is a reminder that time with Him is more important than all the busy work. Listen, “The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things. “But of the few things worth worrying about, there is only one thing you need.” Mary has made the right choice, and that one thing will not be taken away from her.”

I have to admit that sometimes the “busy work” of preparing sermons, picking the worship music, and typing the bulletins; keeps me from actually spending time in communion with my Lord.

If you, like me, let the day to day things of life, even those things that are in service to the Lord, keep you from the peaceful refreshment of time spent at the feet of Jesus, listen to his quiet voice. He will answer when you call upon Him. He can free you of your troubles for he has pity on you.

Then along with the psalmist I say, “Think about this on your bed and remain quiet. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness by trusting the Lord. Many are saying, “Who can show us anything good?” Let the light of your presence shine on us, O Lord. You put more joy in my heart than when their grain and new wine increase. I fall asleep in peace the moment I lie down because you alone, O Lord, enable me to live securely.” Amen.

All scripture quotes are from GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)

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Who Pays?

Matthew 17:23-2623. And when they had arrived at Capernaum, those who collected the half shekel approached Peter, and they said to him, “Doesn’t your Teacher pay the half shekel?” 24. He said, “Yes.” And when he had entered into the house, Jesus went before him, saying: “How does it seem to you, Simon? The kings of the earth, from whom do they receive tribute or the census tax: from their own sons or from foreigners?” 25. And he said, “From foreigners.” Jesus said to him: “Then the sons are free. 26. But so that we may not become an obstacle to them: go to the sea, and cast in a hook, and take the first fish that is brought up, and when you have opened its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take it and give it to them, for me and for you.”Jesus had returned to his home base, possibly Peter’s home. Those who collected the “tax” for the temple (not to be confused with those who collected taxes for Rome) approached Peter and ask if Jesus as going to pay the required half shekel. This was used for the upkeep of the temple.I wonder how it would work if our churches collected a “tax” instead of relying on donations? It sure would be easier planning the budget. No amen from the administrative council?We know that Jesus was raised in a family which followed the Jewish laws. He was circumcised on the eighth day. (Luke 2:21) He was presented to the temple at forty days for formal induction into the Israelite community. It was also when, as the first born son, he was both given to God and redeemed to live with his family. Exodus 13:1-21. The LORD spoke to Moses, 2. “Set apart every firstborn male for me. Every firstborn male offspring among the Israelites is mine, whether human or animal.” Jesus, as firstborn son, would have been in a state of sanctity (meaning holy or sacred) and thereby predestined to serve in the temple. All firstborn males are in this state of sanctity, unless they are redeemed or ransomed. A Jewish firstborn son can be redeemed, by use of a sacrifice of silver coins, or if unable to pay with silver with doves.The point here is that his parents followed the laws and customs, so we can assume that Jesus did also. We read in Luke chapter 2 that it was their custom to go to the temple during Passover. You’ll remember the twelve year old Jesus being found by his parents at the temple.Now, back to that shekels. I’ve tried to find the worth of the shekels in those times. I’ve discovered that there is no straightforward answer to that. The shekel’s value varied greatly depending on time and place. The best answer I’ve come up with is anywhere from a day’s wage to half a month’s wage. Jesus, as skilled labor (carpenter), would have paid more than an unskilled laborer (fisherman).But listen again to the question. “Doesn’t your Teacher pay the half shekel?” Without being there or having the emotions or voice in how the question was ask, it’s impossible to know why they asked.It could have been asked very straightforward and with no hidden agenda. Is he going to pay?It could have been asked as an accusation. Suggesting a who does he think he is to not pay?It could had been asked in a very respectful voice that acknowledged Jesus’s role as a spiritual leader. The questioner may not know if Jesus is supposed to pay. Was he to be exempt even as the priest were exempt?However the question was asked, the answer was a quick “Yes.”However, when Peter went in the house (presumably to get the coins), Jesus, as he so often did, used it as a teaching moment. He said something along the lines of; “Hey, Pete, let me ask you a question.”Peter, recognizing the pattern that Jesus so often used, steadied himself and hoped his teacher would be proud of the answer.”Pete, all the kings of the earth levy taxes. Who do they tax, their family or others?”Peter answered, “Others.”Jesus said, “That’s right.”Even as Peter was accepting his “Attaboy” he knew his master was just winding up to throw a curve ball.And Jesus did. “So, knowing that the money was for God’s house, the temple, then God’s true children should not have to pay.”While Peter was still reeling from that unforeseen twist, Jesus decided to cause further amazement by sending Peter to go fishing.And without hesitation, Peter grabbed his trust ol’ canepole and went fishing. The first fish he caught had enough money in its mouth to pay both of their taxes.Great story, amen?But what does it mean for you and me?Are we to pay the “temple tax” or not?No! Absolutely not!Did that get your attention? Good. Hear what Paul wrote to the early Christians.2 Corinthians 9:5-135. So I thought that I should encourage our coworkers to visit you before I do and make arrangements for this gift that you had already promised to give. Then it will be the blessing it was intended to be, and it won’t be something you’re forced to do. 6. Remember this: The farmer who plants a few seeds will have a very small harvest. But the farmer who plants because he has received God’s blessings will receive a harvest of God’s blessings in return. 7. Each of you should give whatever you have decided. You shouldn’t be sorry that you gave or feel forced to give, since God loves a cheerful giver. 8. Besides, God will give you his constantly overflowing kindness. Then, when you always have everything you need, you can do more and more good things. 9. Scripture says, “The righteous person gives freely to the poor. His righteousness continues forever.” 10. God gives seed to the farmer and food to those who need to eat. God will also give you seed and multiply it. In your lives he will increase the things you do that have his approval. 11. God will make you rich enough so that you can always be generous. Your generosity will produce thanksgiving to God because of us. 12. What you do to serve others not only provides for the needs of God’s people, but also produces more and more prayers of thanksgiving to God. 13. You will honor God through this genuine act of service because of your commitment to spread the Good News of Christ and because of your generosity in sharing with them and everyone else.”What you promise to God is between you and God. Each of you should give whatever you have decided. You shouldn’t be sorry that you gave or feel forced to give.”There is no temple tax that you are required to give to your church.However, remember Jesus said, “But so that we may not become an obstacle to them.” And he provided the money to pay the temple tax.Wait. What about tithing? Isn’t there some law about that?Well, that’s not an easy one to answer because tithing (giving 1/10th of your wealth) predates the Law of a Moses by hundred of years. Abraham tithed. (Genesis 14:18-20) 18. Then in truth, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine, for he was a priest of the Most High God; 19. he blessed him, and he said: “Blessed be Abram by the Most High God, who created heaven and earth. 20. And blessed be the Most High God, through whose protection the enemies are in your hands.” And he gave him tithes from everything. So Abraham gave to God, through Melchizedek, 1/10th of all he had because he recognized that Mel was a true priest of the true God.Now, about that Law. Leviticus 27:30 “All the tithes of the land, whether from the grain, or from the fruits of trees, are for the Lord and are sanctified to him.”So one tenth of every increase belongs to the Lord. And it’s the first 10% not the last.In Matthew 23:23 Jesus condemns the Pharisees not not for tithing, but for their abandoning the greater parts of the law. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! For you collect tithes on mint and dill and cumin, but you have abandoned the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, while not omitting the others.”I have to tell you that theologians and church officials are divided over tithing. But one thing they all agree on, Clearly in both the Old Testament and New God’s people are expected to use their resources to be of service to others and to further God’s kingdom.John Wesley said, “

When a man becomes a Christian, he becomes industrious, trustworthy and prosperous. Now, if that man when he gets all he can and saves all he can, does not give all he can, I have more hope for Judas Iscariot than for that man!”

My recommendation to you give whatever you have decided. But give it freely, expecting nothing in return. Just as salvation is a gift unearned and freely given.I love the hymn by Carol Owens, Freely, Freely
ChorusHe said freely freelyYou have received

Freely freely give
Go in My name
And because you believe
Others will know that I live.
Go in the peace of God: Father, Son, and Holy SpiritGive of yourself as God has given to you. Amen.Also visit my other blogs

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“Practical Examples”  

New Testament Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Gospel Reading: Luke 14:1, 7-14
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more and than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.
For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Message: “Practical Examples” by Tom Williams

My mother used to say, “Everyone is a good example of something … even if it is a good example of a bad example.” My father died when I was about four years old, so my mother was my main example for the early part of my life. Mom dropped out before high school, when her mother became too ill to handle all the duties of a household of nine children. And yet she was one of the most intelligent people I have ever known. It was her example of reading … devouring everything that she could … that got me hooked on books. Word games and puzzles were a big part of our lives. From her I also inherited a sardonic way at looking at life.
She was also a good example of a bad example in some ways also. She had a very negative attitude and tended to focus on and relish the bad news of the day. And … uh .. er … my first cigarettes were also stolen from her. She paid the price for the smokes by having to live with emphysema in later years.
She wasn’t my only example of how to live. My brother (seventeen years older) was a bully and abusive to his family. He was the bad example that I swore to not duplicate with my own family. Over the years many people have been good examples for me. I will be eternally grateful to a man named Ernie for being an excellent example of a Christian man. There are others of course. Some have passed over to their reward. Dick was an example of true humility to me. He was so obviously led by the Lord and yet he shied from taking any credit for what he did. Lester was a man who loved the Lord deeply and loved to talk about him. Elmer radiated such love that it was infectious. There are others here, still living, that I would embarrass if I mentioned their names that have been examples of devotion and service to me.
We need these good examples in our lives because the world is full of the other kind of example. We live in a world surrounded by examples of hate, lust, betrayal and greed. We are bombarded by enticements to live lives that are abhorrent to God and counter to the teachings of Christ and the saints of old. The airwaves and internet carry photos, videos and words that would make the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorra blush. This is the world that we live in and it is hard to escape its influence.
To combat the negative influences in life, there are those that follow a religious teaching that separates them from the secular world. And maybe for some that is the path they need to follow.
But I see in Christ the example of going boldly into that worldly world and taking the Kingdom of God with him. That idea was not widely accepted in his day … nor is it in ours. Mostly the righteous in that day and this abstain from associating with “That type of People”. However, Jesus would go where the need was greatest. In that day, he went to where the sick were and healed them. He went to where the outcasts were and invited them in. He went where the downtrodden were and gave them hope. He went where the sinners were and forgave them.
I can imagine him in our world today going into a pool hall, grabbing a queue, striking up a conversation with someone and then telling a parable that would reveal their life to them in way that they had never seen. He would be on Facebook and his comments would be conversation starters and thought starters that would lead others to discovering God for themselves. You see, he was IN the world in every sense of the term and yet wherever he went, the Kingdom of God was there also.
In today’s gospel reading Luke records that Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath. This is a contrast to the time that Jesus went to the house of Levi, a tax collector and had a meal with Levi and his tax collector friends and other sinners. This upset the Pharisees to no end and they asked his disciples why their master would do such a thing. Jesus heard this and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.
It is amazing that one of the leaders of the Pharisees would even invite Jesus to his home. It could be that he was truly interested in what Jesus had to say (there were some who followed his teachings) or possibly this was seen as a chance to ‘ambush’ Jesus while surrounded by the religious leaders. If that was the plan, it was a tactical mistake on their part. Over and over in the gospels we see Jesus at conflict with the Pharisees. He berates them for leading the people of God astray by teaching custom and human precepts as if they were the Word of God. He accuses them of being so bound by the law that they were hindering the Spirit of God. He sees that they are counting out the tiniest seeds of spice and making sure that one tenth is dedicated to God. He points out that this is not the kind of giving that God wants. He sees them making public spectacles of themselves with their prayers and tells them that they should go into a secret closet and pray to God in secret. Here, in today’s gospel reading, he tells them, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” That is the kind of giving that God truly blesses. While he is at the banquet he gives an object lesson about how we should live our lives. Not seeking glory among and from men, but seeking to be about God’s work and being glorified by God.
In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul echoes that by saying, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.:
Do Good: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Share what you have: Perhaps you think that you don’t have enough to share, perhaps it is just a small lunch of fish and bread. You get the idea, share what you have and God can work a miracle with it. Our resources are limited but his are limitless. There is no limit to what can be accomplished when we give to God. He is the infinite multiplier.
` Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Help those less fortunate. If God has given you a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, share the excess; that is the reason it was given to you. Your cup will only hold so much don’t let the overflow go to waste.
Whoa! It is beginning to sound like a Stewardship moment.
But we are talking about sharing the love of God which is much more than giving of our wealth and possessions. Paul says, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Or in the words of Jesus, “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.”
Paul even says, “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” This teaching goes beyond simply visiting those in prison or putting a Band-Aid on the tortured. It means fully imagine yourself in their shoes. Now image, what is the one thing that you need most? That is what you need to provide for the imprisoned and tortured.
Next, Paul has some simple advice about marriage: “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” That is pretty blunt and straightforward. Marriage is a sacred vow made before and including God. Honor and protect the marriage in all ways. Think of those who have shown you what a Christian marriage is and how it operates in this degenerate world. I will warn you, don’t look for perfection, but look for a marriage that is built on a strong Christian faith. That is the kind of marriage that endures.
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”” The biggest secret here is to be less concerned about the accumulation of wealth and more interested in the way to best use what you have. By all means, be content with what we have … but let us not be lazy about it. The master always expects an increase on what he gave us. Remember the parable of the three slaves who were given talents by the master before he went on a journey. Two returned the talent with an increase and were called “good” and given responsibility over more. The one who returned only what the master had given was called “wicked” and stripped of what he had. “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” is the way John Wesley put it.
Paul writes that if we live our lives this way … if we follow the example that Christ has shown us … “We can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” That is another way of saying, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Do not misinterpret that to mean, “If God is for us everything will just wonderful from now on.” Not in this broken world. We will still face the trials and tribulations of life. However, God will not forsake us. He will be with us. We have a hope that goes beyond this world and this life. It is in these darker times that we truly need those good examples to follow.
Paul says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Look to your personal heroes for guidance. What did they do when times were tough? How did they get out of the pit, or through the fire or through the flood both real and symbolic? Look to Christ as the perfect example and do your best, with God’s help, to measure to that yardstick because, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.” God loves to hear our praises. I love it when my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren tell me that they love me. So does God! Let your love shine. And be an example of the Love of God to those around you.
Charles Wesley, who wrote this poem that became the hymn, “Jesus, Lord, We Look to Thee” and summed it up really well in a very few lines of verse. “Make us of one heart and mind, gentle, courteous, and kind, lowly, meek, in thought and word, altogether like our Lord. Let us for each other care, each the other’s burden bear, to thy church the pattern give, show how true believers live.”

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“Ask a Butterfly, ‘Who Are You?’”

Luke 9:28-36

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Message: “Ask a Butterfly, ‘Who Are You?’”
Hear now the Parable of the Caterpillar
There was a caterpillar much like other caterpillars. It had lots of legs beneath and lots of stripes of black, white, and yellow. And like all of the other caterpillars, it crawled along eating leaves. That was its life.That is it was its life until one day it crawled upon a lovely flower. The flower was so glorious, so spectacular, so beautiful, that the caterpillar began to weep.
“I never knew such splendor existed!” it cried. “Look how the flower reaches for the sky. Look how gracefully it moves in the breeze. Oh how I long to be so beautiful and full of grace. But I am but dull and brown and fit to do nothing but crawl upon the ground. No one will ever gaze upon me and exclaim, ‘What beauty!’”In despair the caterpillar curled into a ball in the center of the colorful flower. Soon it slept. In that sleep, dream formed. A brilliant white butterfly came to him. It was whiter than sunlight on the snow. It glowed with such beauty that it was hard to look upon.In a commanding, yet gentle, musical voice the butterfly spoke, “Wake, my child. Arise, and join me, for I seek a relationship with you.”
“I c-c-can’t follow you,” replied the caterpillar, “You can fly, and I am fit for nothing other than to crawl in the dirt.”
“Then you must stop crawling in the dirt. I’ll give you instruction on how not to live in the dust.”
“I’ll try. However, I still can’t fly.”
“I’ll send my beloved son. Follow him and he’ll teach you all you need to know so that you can join me.”A short time later another caterpillar appeared. It also had stripes of black, white, and yellow. It looked just like any other caterpillar with legs below and stripes above. It was quite unremarkable until it said, “I am the son of the Great Monarch butterfly in the sky. I’ve been sent to show you how to fly.”“But, you have no wings either. How can you teach me to fly?”
“Ah, you need to understand how to live as a caterpillar before you can be a butterfly.”The new caterpillar spoke many things to the old caterpillar. They were wise words about how to live among the flowers, how to behave with other caterpillars, and how to show reverence for the Great Monarch.More and more caterpillars came to listen to the Monarch’s Son as he spoke about how it was going to be when they would live together in the sky. He spoke about how they would be changed inwardly and outwardly.Some caterpillars were upset with these teachings. The words were foolishness in their ears. “How can a worm like you speak of flying? You are just a grub like us.” They were so angry that sought to kill him. However, he was always surrounded by his followers and they feared the crowds more than they hated the new caterpillar.However, one day, a follower of the Son came to them and said, “I know a place and a time when you can come to him when he is nearly alone.” So they came, in force, with others who did not believe the tales told by the Son. They captured him and killed him. “That is the end of that nonsense,” they said, “Let no one speak of him again.”They felt quite smug about killing him until three days later when word came to them that the Son had been seen alive and meeting with his followers. He was continuing to teach them many things about the kingdom of the sky. He taught them that at the end of their life as a caterpillar they would enter a chrysalis and slowly be changed into butterflies in the image of the Great Monarch. As he was speaking, he was suddenly changed into a brilliant white butterfly and rose into the air until he could no longer be seen.
More about caterpillars.
That famous theologian Lewis G. Carol once wrote:
The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice. `Who are YOU?’ said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’
`What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. `Explain yourself!’
`I can’t explain MYSELF, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, `because I’m not myself, you see.’
`I don’t see,’ said the Caterpillar.
`I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,’ Alice replied very politely, `for I can’t understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.’
`It isn’t,’ said the Caterpillar.
`Well, perhaps you haven’t found it so yet,’ said Alice; `but when you have to turn into a chrysalis–you will some day, you know–and then after that into a butterfly, I should think
you’ll feel it a little strange, won’t you?’
`Not a bit,’ said the Caterpillar.
`Well, perhaps your feelings may be different,’ said Alice; `all I know is, it would feel very strange to ME.’
`You!’ said the Caterpillar contemptuously. `Who are YOU?’
Now I ask you, “Who are you?”
If you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are a new creature.
Who are you?
How do you explain your transfiguration to others?
Here is the definition of Transfiguration: to give a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance.
In our scripture reading we see how Jesus was transfigured. “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white”.
For just a brief moment, those fortunate disciples saw Jesus as he truly is.
How often do we let others see our true nature?
And what would they see?
I would hope that they would see the glory of Christ shining through me.
But most likely if you were to see my true nature it would be fragmented.
There would be those glorious, dazzling white clothes,
patched together with filthy rags.
I am not yet complete.
But I strive forward toward that goal.
As Saint Paul wrote to the Philippians 3:12-14
It’s not that I’ve already reached the goal
or have already completed the course.
But I run to win
that which Jesus Christ has already won for me.
Brothers and sisters,
I can’t consider myself a winner yet.
This is what I do:
I don’t look back,
I lengthen my stride,
and I run straight toward the goal
to win the prize
that God’s heavenly call offers in Christ Jesus.”
I was a caterpillar.
I was a man lost in sin.
And the worst part of it was
that for the longest time,
I didn’t even know that I was lost.
In mine own eyes
And to the eyes of the world,
I was a good man.
As I measured myself against other men,
I could say, “I’m not a thief,
I’m not a murderer,
I obey the law
(that is the law of man-
For I didn’t truly know God’s Law)
I treated my fellow man as I wanted to be treated,
Most of the time.
I wasn’t a liar,
Most of the time.
I was good to children and small furry animals.
That made me a good man. Amen?
Yes I was a good man.
But still a man lost to sin.
I was so surrounded by
The darkness of the world
That I couldn’t see that
I wasn’t a Godly man.
I may have been morally upright,
But I wasn’t morally clean.
My garments were tattered and dirty.
And then,
And then, Jesus made everything right
I gave Him my old tattered garment
He gave me a robe of pure white.
As the hymn says,
I heard an old, old story how a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary to save a wretch like me;
I heard about His groaning, of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins and won the victory.”
2 Corinthians 5:17 declares,
Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation.
The old way of living has disappeared.
A new way of living has come into existence.”
But, just as a caterpillar,
Doesn’t become a butterfly overnight,
My transfiguration was just beginning.
I was, and still am, in my chrysalis stage.
Paul, in his lengthy, lawyer way, wrote this.
In Romans 8
So those who are believers in Christ Jesus
can no longer be condemned.
The standards of the Spirit,
who gives life through Christ Jesus,
have set you free from the standards of sin and death.
It is impossible to do what God’s standards demand
because of the weakness our human nature has.
But God sent his Son to have a human nature
as sinners have and to pay for sin.”
I love the lyrics to the hymn by Isaac Watts “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed.”
1. Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
and did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
for such a worm as I?
2. Was it for crimes that I have done,
he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
3. Well might the sun in darkness hide,
and shut its glories in,
when God, the mighty maker, died
for his own creature’s sin.
4. Thus might I hide my blushing face
while his dear cross appears;
dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
and melt mine eyes to tears.
5. But drops of tears can ne’er repay
the debt of love I owe.
Here, Lord, I give myself away;
’tis all that I can do.
Master, it is good for us to be here.
We have heard your command,
This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
We have been made into a new creature
Lord, we pray that Your beauty shines through us.
Go, you butterflies and share with the caterpillars.

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Matthew 5:1-12
5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
5:2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5:11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I’ve been a Christian for fifty some years. But even in my preteen years I began to delve into the bible, trying to understand, to gain wisdom. In my teens I began to become a doubter. In my twenties I gave my life to God and Jesus as Christ and began once again to study the bible. I attended bible college with no goal other than to deepen my understanding of God’s word.

When I first began to preach, I told people, “I’m not really a preacher. I’m a student of the bible and just want to share what I’ve learned.”

I’ve said all that to confess this, I’ve always thought that the teachings of the beatitudes was to the multitudes on the mountain, commonly called the sermon on the mount. However, both the gospels of Matthew and Luke clearly state that he was teaching his disciples. I’m sure that some of those around them also heard but it was directed toward those who were his closest companions. Matthew 5:1
5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. and Luke 6:20 And lifting up his eyes to his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

How have I missed this all of these years? Did someone come in while I was sleeping and insert those words into my bibles? No, of course not. But the new question is, now that I know this was a specific teaching for a specific group of men, how does that change my understanding of the story?

First, let us understand the biblical meaning of being blessed.

God’s intention and desire to bless humanity is a central focus of his covenant relationships. For this reason, the concept of blessing pervades the biblical record. Two distinct ideas are present.

  1. First, a blessing was a public declaration of a favored status with God.
  2. Second, the blessing endowed power for prosperity and success.

In all cases, the blessing served as a guide and motivation to pursue a course of life within the blessing.” (Bible Study Tools.com)

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Poor in spirit, what does that mean? I checked with some other translations.

(GW, God’s Word) Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are those who recognize they are spiritually helpless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”

( T4T, Translation for Translators) Matthew 5:3 “God is pleased with people who recognize that they have a spiritual need; he will allow them to be the people whose lives he rules over.”

(E2R,Easy to Read Version) Matthew 5:3 “Great blessings belong to those who know they are spiritually in need. God’s kingdom belongs to them.”

  • Spiritually poor, spiritually in need, and spiritually helpless. Been there, done that. Truly the first step toward salvation is to realize our need and helplessness. To personalize Romans 3:23 I have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Only by recognizing that we are spiritually bankrupt can we be ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4 God is pleased with people who mourn because they have sinned; they will be encouraged {he will encourage them.} (T4T version)

Matthew 5:4 Great blessings belong to those who are sad now. God will comfort them. (E2T version)

We mourn for those people, things, and opportunities that we have lost. We also mourn during times of hardship that have become unbearable. It is then that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.

(KJV) Romans 8:26-27 ” At the same time the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we don’t know how to pray for what we need. But the Spirit intercedes along with our groans that cannot be expressed in words. The one who searches our hearts knows what the Spirit has in mind. The Spirit intercedes for God’s people the way God wants him to.”

  • “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

I used to think that meek was synonymous with weak. But that isn’t true to be truly meek you must have great inner strength. Jesus was meek. He was submissive. He was a servant to all, but none would say he was weak. He was actually restating what the psalmist had written centuries before.
(ASV, American Standard Version) Psalms 37:10-11 “For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: Yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and he shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the land, And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” God will remove the wicked so that the meek may life in peace.

  • 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

To be righteous is to be morally good, respectful, and honorable. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to strive for this godly behavior as if your life depends upon it.

  • 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21-35 begins with Peter asking how many times he must forgive. And Jesus taught in the Lord’s prayer that we are forgiven as we forgive.

  • 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Matthew 5:8

(E2R) Great blessings belong to those whose thoughts are pure. They will be with God. We know that we are not speaking of our literal heart, the muscle that pumps the blood through our body. The heart spoken of is our inward being. We also know that without the grace of God we can not achieve that purity out heart. King David wrote, (Psalms 50:11-12) “Turn your face away from my sins, and erase all my iniquities. Create a clean heart in me, O God. And renew an upright spirit within my inmost being.”

  • 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

James 3:18 “And so the fruit of justice is sown in peace by those who make peace.” We are to seek peace even to the point of loving our enemies. Matthew 5:44 “But I (Jesus) say to you: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. And pray for those who persecute and slander you.” Now that is a peace maker because you must make peace within yourself to love your enemies.

Remember, once again, that Jesus was teaching his disciples to be: poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, seek righteousness, be merciful, be pure in heart, and to be peacemakers. And what reward was he promising them?

  • 5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • 5:11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

This was their earthly reward. And indeed if you read the lives of the apostles, they were persecuted. Most suffered cruel deaths. But their true reward was not of this earth not on this earth.

  • 5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Now what does this teaching mean to us, to you and me? We are Christ’s disciples in this time arms I this place. We are where the rubber hits the road. We are Christ,’s hands and feet in this age. We are his voice to those around us. He has given us a checklist of how we can be blessed to bless. Amen.

How Awesome is This Place

Genesis 28:10-18 10. Meanwhile Jacob, having departed from Beersheba, continued on to Haran. 11. And when he had arrived at a certain place, where he would rest after the setting of the sun, he took some of the stones that lay there, and placing them under his head, he slept in the same place. 12. And he saw in his sleep: a ladder standing upon the earth, with its top touching heaven, also, the Angels of God ascending and descending by it, 13. and the Lord, leaning upon the ladder, saying to him: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. The land, in which you sleep, I will give to you and to your offspring. 14. And your offspring will be like the dust of the earth. You will spread abroad to the West, and to the East, and to the North, and to the Meridian. And in you and in your offspring, all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed. 15. And I will be your guardian wherever you will journey, and I will bring you back into this land. Neither will I dismiss you, until I have accomplished all that I have said.” 16. And when Jacob had awakened from sleep, he said, “Truly, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17. And being terrified, he said: “How awsome this place is! This is nothing other than the house of God and the gateway of heaven.” 18. Therefore, Jacob, arising in the morning, took the stone which he had placed under his head, and he set it up as monument, pouring oil over it.

        Our reading from the Hebrew Bible really caught my attention this week. The story of Jacob’s ladder is probably among the first Bible stories most of us learned.  And of course the important part of the whole story is the revelation of God to Jacob and the transfer of the promise from Abraham to Jacob.  The promise to bless all families of the earth through his offspring.

        This time, though, here is the part that stood out to me as I read this scripture, “”Surely the Lord is in this place–and I did not know it!” And “How awesome is this place!” It made me wonder – how many times have we been in one of God’s special places – and not known it? This place was so special to Jacob that he built an altar to God on this holy ground and named it Bethel.  That is Beth-El, two words with a hyphen.  It means House of God        

We need to understand the “why” and the “what” of and altar.         

  • Here is the WHY:  The Old Testament altar is used as a physical representation of God.  So that, what was placed on the altar, was symbolically given to God. We most often think of the blood sacrifices – offering goats, sheep, cattle, and birds to be killed and burned on the altar. However, there were also sacrifices of grain, fruits and vegetables, as well as offerings of wine and oil such as Jacob used on his altar. Our modern altars are much more symbolic (and a lot less messy)  We are to be the living sacrifice that is given at the modern altar.
  • Now the “WHAT”. The types of ancient Hebrew altars are divided into two main types of altars.  The Layman’s and the Priestly. 
  • The Priestly altar was what you would have found in the Tabernacle in the desert and later in the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was an ornately decorated altar used by the priests to perform their rituals.
  • The Layman’s altar was vastly different. Anyone could erect a layman’s altar.  They were used for a specific one-time purpose.  Such as Jacob’s revelation of the ladder between earth and heaven. The practice was common for a long time before it became codified into the Mosaic Law as found in Exodus 20:24&25.         It reads:  “You must build an altar for me made out of dirt. Sacrifice your burnt offerings and your fellowship offerings, your sheep, goats, and cattle on it. Wherever I choose to have my name remembered, I will come to you and bless you. If you build an altar for me made out of stones, never make it with cut stone blocks. If you use a chisel on it, you will make it unacceptable to me.”             

Lots of “layman’s Altars” are listed in the bible.  I am going to go through these fairly quickly, so rather than have you try and look them up as I go, I will be glad to give a list of the scripture references later, to anyone who wants them.

Genesis 8:20 (after the flood) Noah built an altar to the Lord. On it he made a burnt offering of each type of clean animal and clean bird.

Genesis 12:7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said,I’m going to give this land to your descendants.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

Genesis 22:9 When they came to the place that God had told him about, Abraham built the altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied up his son Isaac and laid him on top of the wood on the altar.

Genesis 26:24-25 That night the Lord appeared to Isaac, and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Don’t be afraid, because I am with you. I will bless you and increase the number of your descendants for my servant Abraham’s sake.” So Isaac built an altar there and worshiped the Lord.

Genesis 33:18-22  Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem in Canaan. He camped within sight of the city. Then he bought the piece of land on which he had put up his tents. He bought it from the sons of Hamor, father of Shechem, for 100 pieces of silver. He set up an altar there and named it El-elohe- God Is the God of Israel.

Genesis 35:1-3 Then God said to Jacob, “Go to Bethel and live there. Make an altar there. I am the God who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his family and those who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods which you have, wash yourselves until you are ritually clean, and change your clothes. Then let’s go to Bethel. I will make an altar there to God, who answered me when I was troubled and who has been with me wherever I’ve gone.”

Exodus 17:10-15 Joshua did as Moses told him and fought the Amalekites, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, Israel would win, but as soon as he put his hands down, the Amalekites would start to win. Eventually, Moses’ hands felt heavy. So Aaron and Hur took a rock, put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron held up one hand, and Hur held up the other. His hands remained steady until sunset. So Joshua defeated the Amalekite army in battle. The Lord said to Moses, “Write this reminder on a scroll, and make sure that Joshua hears it, too: I will completely erase any memory of the Amalekites from the earth.” Moses built an altar and called it Adonai-nissi, The Lord Is My Banner.

        Notice the common thread that runs through this scriptures?  These were places marked by a significant meeting with God.  These were places of “holy ground”.

        I’m going to do something here that you are not supposed to do in preaching.  You are not supposed to use “I” or “You”.  Sermons are supposed to be about “Us” and “We”. However, I’m going to relate a personal example of an experience I had with “holy ground” and then I’m going to ask you to tell me your experience of finding a “holy ground”.

        Some forty years ago I was working in a food production facility.  Things were going well for the company and they had just added a new production line and storage freezer capacity. Neither the production line or the freezer were in operation yet.  

     The freezer was huge.  It seemed like about a half a football field. As it was not in operation, it was used for storing 100 pound bags of flour. The place was dimly lit with only the emergency lights. When the big freezer doors were closed it was completely silent in there.     
     The first time I went into that room, I felt I was on holy ground. An industrial setting may seem like an unlikely place for holy ground.  But that was the feeling that I had.  I often took my lunch break in there.  I could talk out loud to God and listen and meditate in the silence.        

     I knew that the owners were Christians, so one day I mention to him what I felt in that room. He said that he was not surprised.  That a lot of prayer had gone into the planning and the building of the addition.        

     Over the years I have found other places that just seemed to be special “God places”  or as Jacob called them gateways to God’s house.        

      It is your turn.  Where have you had that “holy ground” experience?

        These stories can help to build up the body of believers. I know and believe that God is ALWAYS with us.  That He never leaves us alone. However, I thank God that He has made us aware of His presence in special places and special ways; so that we can say with Jacob, “Surely the Lord is in this place–and I did not know it!” And “How awesome is this place!”


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