October 19, 2020 – Barb Haddon

Soul Food for Monday, from Barb!

I have been reading a book lately on God’s mercy. The author makes the point that God’s mercy takes precedent over God’s justice–which is good news for us! Here we see a parable about God’s mercy.

MATTHEW 20:1-15

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

MEDITATION

This is one of my favorite parables.  It is a great example of the tendency of parables to “somersault” us into new understandings in which be begin at one point, are turned upside down, and come out ahead of where we started. It certainly succeeds in reversing our expectations!

Most of us find ourselves right in line with the workers who showed up at 9:00 AM.  The wage agreed to was a fair one, so there was no problem agreeing to work for one denarius.  They were probably glad to see more people join them as the day wore on.  The vineyard was large, the sun was hot, and evening was far off.  I remember learning about growing grapes when we lives in the central coast of California.  Grapes are very particular!  There is a narrow window for harvesting them.  if they stay on the vine too long, the sugar content is affected, and the flavor of the wine will be changed.  It was imperative to get the grapes harvested in a timely manner.

In the parable, all went well until the end of the day.  I can imagine the work being accomplished among the workers with a sense of good camaraderie.  They were in it together to get the work done for the vineyard owner.

HOWEVER, everything changed at the end of the day when it came time for the owner to “pay up.”  The workers were asked to line up with those who came last, first in line, and those who had worked all day at the end of the line.  The ones at the head of the line were paid the same as those who had worked all day.  Can you hear yourself thinking with them, “Wow!  If they got a denarius, how much more will I receive, who have put in so many more hours?”  Imagine, then how disappointed they must have been to have been paid the same wage? Nor surprisingly, they complained to the vineyard owner.

He reminded them that he paid the wage that they had agreed upon, and released them to leave.

The punchline is, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” (Psalm 24:1) All that we have, all that we are is within the providence of God.  It doesn’t matter when we come to faith, or whether it is a gradual awakening or a sudden conversion.  IT doesn’t matter whether we have embraced the faith since childhood or come to faith on our deathbed.  God is allowed to do with as God choose with what belongs to God.  (And it ALL belongs to God) God is continually reversing human expectations.  While we work for fairness in our relationships, God goes beyond fair to just.

The current year is a fine example of upset expectations.  It seems that nothing  has gone as planned.  We have been somersaulted into new ways of thinking and coping.  God is full of surprises!  Let us continue to trust, and to be open to surprising somersaults!

PSALM 24

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the Lord,
and vindication from the God of their salvation.
Such is the company of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.


October 16, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Friday’s Soul Food

Sometimes the way we hear something depends on who is saying it. How do we hear something when it Jesus saying it?

Luke 9:18-27

18Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” 20He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”
21He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, 22saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
23Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? 26Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

Meditation

When I lived in Fairbanks, I was on the board for the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre, and eventually became board president. I met with the director on a regular basis. The director was new to the job, even though he had been a part of the company for years.

During one meeting I could tell he was frustrated. He didn’t want to talk about it, but I finally got him to open up.
“When I was just an actor, I got along with everyone. I would hang out with the company, and we would have fun together. But now that I am director….well that all changed. Now they see me as their boss, and the friendly relationships I had have changed. Now, if I walk up to a group of people talking, it gets quiet when I show up.”

I commiserated with him for a while, but then I had to give him the facts of life. “You ARE their boss,” I told him. “You are no longer part of the company. You are not here to have fun with the cast. You are here to lead them. And sometimes that is a lonely job.”

The title “Boss” set him apart from the others, and they had to treat him differently.

When the disciples started following Jesus, that probably all had different ways of seeing Jesus. Some might have seen him as a teacher worth following. Some might have seen following Jesus as a good way to get out of the fishing business. Some, like Matthew, felt he could help them become better people.

But all that changed with Peter’s confession. “You are the Christ, God anointed, who came to bring the Kingdom of God to us.” If Jesus has just been a good teacher, then the disciples could have left him when the going got tough, or when his teachings challenged them too much. If Jesus was just a good life coach, they could leave once they got their houses in order.

But Jesus was not primarily a teacher, or life coach. He was the Christ, God’s anointed. I can treat a co-worker one way, but when the become my boss, the relationship changes.

It is at this point, after Peter’s confession, that Jesus issues his most provocative challenge to them. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” You don’t have to do that for good teacher. But if that teacher happens to be the Messiah, the relationship changes. His words are not longer to be judged by how wise or witty they are. They now become the words of God, coming through the Messiah, to them.

They are no longer suggestions, which they can take or leave as they wish. They represent what God wants from us.

Only someone speaking for God could say, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Those are hard words to hear, and harder to put into practice. But they are also the words that lead us into eternal life.

Psalm 36

1   Transgression speaks to the wicked
deep in their hearts;
there is no fear of God
before their eyes.
2   For they flatter themselves in their own eyes
that their iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
3   The words of their mouths are mischief and deceit;
they have ceased to act wisely and do good.
4   They plot mischief while on their beds;
they are set on a way that is not good;
they do not reject evil.

5   Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
6   Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.

7   How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8   They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9   For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

10  O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!
11  Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me,
or the hand of the wicked drive me away.
12  There the evildoers lie prostrate;
they are thrust down, unable to rise.


October 13, 2020 – Barb Haddon

LUKE 8:43-48

43 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

MEDITATION

When I served the Presbyterian Church in San Luis Obispo, CA, there was a member of the congregation who was a liturgical dancer.  On a Sunday when I preached on this passage, as the Scripture was being read, Ann started at the back of the sanctuary, dressed in black from head to toe.  As she progressed down the center aisle, a blood red cloth trailed behind her all the way to the chancel.  When she reached the chancel, she touched the fringe of the cloth on the communion table, and burst into an exuberant dance!  I never read this passage without thinking of Ann’s interpretation.

There are many issues in this passage:

  • The woman was unclean in her culture because she was bleeding.  That meant that everything she touched had to be cleaned (rather like COVID!)  It meant that she was an outcast in her own culture; separated even from her family.  (Again, like COVID, and in earlier days, like AIDS)
  • She had become impoverished because she had sought treatment so many times that her resources had run out.  (Like those who lack sufficient health care in our time!)
  • As a woman, she was a second class citizen, and had no right to ask anything of Jesus, so she came in silently from the back of the crowd. She sought only to touch the hem of his robe, and believed that would be enough to heal her.  (We have only to pray to be that close to Jesus, but do we have the trust and faith that she exhibited?)  Immediately, she felt her body healed, and the hemorrhaging stopped.   She probably FELT like dancing!
  • Jesus, too was impacted by her touch.  He felt power leave HIS body!  he wanted to know the person who had such an impact on him.  Knowing that she could not escape, she knelt in front of him and explained what she had done, and how she had been healed. (Isn’t it amazing that WE could impact JESUS?!  Would we have the courage to testify in front of a crowd how Jesus has impacted US?)
  • Rather than scolding her, Jesus gently affirmed her faith, and encouraged her to go in peace (and, I am sure, in continued health!)  I have often imagined what it must have been like to go home, be reunited with her family and friends, and resume a normal life.  After 12 years, I’ll bet that there was quite an adjustment period!

This story is “sandwiched” in the midst of a story about how a synagogue leader had implored him to come to his home to heal his daughter. Jesus was in route to the man’s house when he was interrupted by the woman with the flow of blood.  He took time to care for a social outcast before attending to a leader of society.  He practiced what he preached.  “When you care for the least of these, you care for me.”  We work at that together, but are there ways that we could be more caring, that we could examine, and even change our priorities?

There’s lots to think about here!  Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!

PSALM 112:1-9

Praise the Lord!
Happy are those who fear the Lord,
who greatly delight in his commandments.
Their descendants will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
and their righteousness endures forever.
They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright;
they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with those who deal generously and lend,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved;
they will be remembered forever.
They are not afraid of evil tidings;
their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.
Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever;
their horn is exalted in honor.


October 12, 2020 – Barb Haddon

PHILIPPIANS 4:4-7; 12-13

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

MEDITATION

Whatever struggles we have with the Apostle Paul, we can’t help but be in awe of his faith.  He was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and finally died, imprisoned, for his faith, and yet he persevered.  He had deep concern for the members of the churches that he had founded, and encouraged them, both individually and as a body.

If anyone had a reason to worry, it was Paul!  He never knew what would happen next for him, yet he never lost faith, and the voice of God was a constant companion to him.  It was while he was in prison in Rome (the last stop before he died) that he wrote the above words: “ Rejoice!  Do not worry about anything, but I everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. “

He went on to affirm that he had been at both ends of the social ladder.  “I know what it is to have plenty….I have learned the secret of being well-fed and going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.”

Despite his hard times, he write, “Do not worry about anything!”  If we didn’t know his history, we would think that he was simply a cockeyed optimist.  Yet, Paul was a realist. He knew life’s hardships, and he gives to us the “secret” for moving past worry.  PRAY!  Let your needs be known to God.

(I believe that God already knows what we need, but I have learned that it helps to articulate our needs, both for clarification and prioritization.)

I am helped by the words of the old hymn “God Will Take Care of You.”

Be not dismayed what e’r betide
God will take care of you
Beneath God’s wings of love abide
God will take care of you
No matter what may be the test
God will take care of you
Lean, weary one, upon God’s breast,
God will take care of  you.

In my experience, God DOES take care of us!  Sometimes it is direct divine intervention, and sometimes, it is through the actions of other people; friends, professionals and colleagues.  First, we need to clarify the source of our worry (and there is plenty to worry about – the disastrous aftermath of fires, the escalating COVID virus, the rancorous political divisions, our financial security, climate change, and the list goes on.)  Then, pray about our needs, and accept help where it is offered.  This is not the time for rugged individualism!
Paul concludes by saying, “I can do all things through God who strengthens me.”  We can too!   Trust God’s loving care for us. Pray to articulate our needs, and carry with us the words of Paul to move into the unknown future.

PSALM 98

O sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
have gotten him victory.
The Lord has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.


October 7, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Psalm 139 – The Inescapable God
To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15     My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.

Meditation
Many years ago I was at a parishioner’s house watching the Super Bowl with him and some of his friends. After he introduced me to his friends, he went the refrigerator and got a beer. He invited his friends to have one, and I heard one of them say, “You’re going to drink that beer in front of the pastor?”
He replied, “I was going to drink it in front of God, so why not the pastor?”

I find somewhat amusing to see how people alter their behavior either at church or when the are with me. Often it has to do with the language they use. I was playing golf with a church intern, and we were paired with two other men, one of whom used the f-word in every sentence he uttered. I did introduce my self as a pastor, but halfway through our round the intern asked if I had finished my sermon for the Sunday. The guy wheeled around and shouted, “Are you an f-ing priest?!!
I told him I was a man of the clothe and he said, “I’m really a good guy! I really am!” Did he think God did not hear what he said?

In today’s Psalm, David is telling us that God is always with us. “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” (verse 7) He says:
    If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.

The last part of his verse is the most important part—Your hand shall lead me, your right hand hold me fast.

God is not some immortal spy, who keeps looking in on us to catch us doing something wrong. God’s presence is continually with us to lead us and uphold us. We are never alone! When I have to make a difficult decision or do something that is hard for me to do, I know that God is with me. When I feel lost in this world, I know God will lead me. When I feel alone, I know that God is with me.

Prayer

Lord, we pause at noon from work and activity
To remember the many gifts
that come from Your heart.
Thank You for food and meaningful work.
Thank You for the beauty and rhythm of each day.
Thank You that You lovingly accept us as we are
And invite us to rest in the intimacy of that love.
Guard us, Lord, from seeking to find our identity
In performance or professions.
Keep us awake to Your sustaining love
the remainder of this day.
Grant us the courage to delight in the life that is ours
And may the peace you have given to us
Make its way to those You bring across our path.


October 5, 2020 – Barb Haddon

LUKE 6:39-42

39He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. 41Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

MEDITATION

In these days of deep division, race against race, Democrat against Republican, youth vs. the aging, conservative against liberal, it is easy to go around with logs in our eyes!  We are so eager to prove ourselves right, even to vilify those who think differently that it is sometimes harder to see the log in our own eye than the speck in another’s.  Our disagreements cut so deeply that we magnify our neighbor’s failings and don’t see our own.

I recently read a book entitled “Love Your Enemies”.  The premise of the book was that when we have deep disagreements, there are two ways of handling them.  We can agree to disagree, knowing that we have irreconcilable differences and avoid the subject, or we can get our facts straight and then talk through our differences.  In my current living situation, we have fellow residents with whom we use both techniques.  Both have difficulties, and both rewards.  Whichever method we use, it becomes easier to see the speck in our own eyes, and less likely to treat the other’s speck like a log!

Our president’s current illness gives us an opportunity to practice getting the log out of our own eyes.  Whether we support his agenda or not, we can clear our eyes of bias and sincerely pray for his recovery and for the stability of our country in these times of uncertainty.  It is surely a time to “make love our aim!”

May you go into your week with clear vision; seeing others through the eyes of God, and willing to clear the logjam in your own eyes!

PSALM 77:11-15

I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples.
15 With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.Selah


October 2, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Soul Food for Friday. 

This is the year of Everything Going Wrong. But we stand with God, who makes everything right!

Isaiah 43

43 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

MEDITATION

Back in the day, before the internet, if you wanted good concert tickets, you had to camp out at the ticket booth to get a good place in line. I have spent many a night sleeping on a sidewalk, waiting for tickets. I camped out for tickets to Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, and Neil Young, and others, but the one I remember most is the time several of us camped out at the Charlotte Coliseum for Bob Dylan tickets.

We wanted to be in the front row, so we set up camp on Wednesday night, for tickets that went on sale on Saturday morning. On Thursday night a motorcycle pulled up to  our makeshift camp site, and a man wearing a Hell’s Angel jacket got off the bike and walked over to us.

“My name’s Grayson,” he growled. “If you let me in front of you, I’ll make sure no one else gets in front of you.”

What were we to say? I am not in the habit of annoying the Hell’s Angels. We agreed, and within a hour the parking lot was full of Hell’s Angels. And the party started. “Great,” we thought. “Now there are fifty people ahead of us!” But we didn’t say anything. Instead we went on beer runs for them. And we made sure they got ALL their change back!

But on Saturday morning the parking lot emptied of Angels, and it was just a throng of people standing in line for Bob Dylan tickets, with us and Grayson at the front of the line. Everything seemed in order, but when the doors opened, the crowd rushed in, and several people pushed ahead of us. Grayson grabbed the first person by the scruff of his neck and his belt, turned him sideways, and used him as a battering ram to push all the other people back. “My name is Grayson, and these people are with ME!” he roared, “and they go FIRST!” Everyone else slunk back to their place in line, and Grayson escorted us in, while we said, “We’re with Grayson.”

I thought of that morning as I was praying over today’s lesson.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

Ok, God is not a Hell’s Angel. God is actually much more powerful and a lot more scary to our enemies. The rivers come, and we say, “We’re with God!” The flames mount up, and we stand before them knowing we do not stand alone. This year has brought more than its share of floods and fires (sometimes literally!) But we stand with God. Our Creator stands in front of the waters and shields us. The Lord of Hosts stands before the flames and makes a way for us.

What shall we fear?

Prayer

God, sometimes the rivers seem to rage, and the flames lick high. By ourselves, we cannot make it. But with Your help, we can overcome all things! Be with us as we face the floods and flames of our lives.

Amen


October 1, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Soul Food for October 1

I had a colleague in seminary who tried so hard to be right all the time, that he was hardly any good. The love God shows to us, and calls us to show to others transcends all.

Luke 6:1-11

1One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. 2But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 3Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” 5Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
6On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. 7The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. 8Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. 9Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” 10After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. 11But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Meditation

In Greek mythology there was a giant named Procrustes. He was a particularly nasty giant, who liked to seize his victims and force them to lie in his iron bed. In order to make them fit into the bed, he would either hack their limbs off if they were bigger than the bed, or stretch them out if they were smaller.
Today we use the phrase Procrustean bed to refer to a situation where the person has to fit the circumstances.
In Jesus’ day the Sabbath was a sort of Procrustean bed. There were strict rules on what was allowed, and what was not allowed on the Sabbath. Jesus was not known to abide by all those rules. In particular, he healed people on the Sabbath, which was against the rules. But in today’s story he and his disciples gathered grain in a field on the Sabbath, so they could eat. That was considered to be agriculture by the Pharisees—in other words, working on the Sabbath.
Jesus gives us a principle to go by here. We cannot just do away with all the rules on the one hand. Many rules are good for us. (I’m a personal fan of the one about not killing!) But the rules are supposed to help us, not hurt us.
Years ago I had a kidney stone. It was very painful. At six in the morning my wife was driving me to the hospital. We got to a red light. There was no one around. “Run the light!” I cried. “Run the light!” Normally she did not run red lights, and normally I would not encourage her to do so. But not this morning!
All congregations have rules. Many are very good rules. (Many are also unwritten rules.) But we have to understand, the rules are not a Procrustean bed. We are not supposed to fit our needs and our calling as a congregation to the rules. The rules are supposed to serve our needs and our calling. Sometimes even good rules need to be broken.
Can you think of a time when you let the rules get in the way of doing what God is calling you to do? Can you think of a time or a situation when breaking the rules led to something good? Can you think of rules that should NEVER be broken?

Prayer

O Lord, thank you for the rules which help us grow closer to you, or which help keep us safe. May be never loose sight of the love we are called to show to others, a love that transcends all.
Amen


September 30, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Soul Food for Wednesday

Where is God? That answer is right in the front of your face!

Psalm 19:1-6

God’s Glory in Creation and the Law
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.

Meditation
A young fish once asked his father, “Where is the ocean? I was told we live in the ocean. Where is it?”

The father said, “Son, the ocean is all around you. It is above you below you, and all around you. It is in front of you, and behind you.”

The little fish looked up, and he looked down. He looked around. He looked ahead, and he looked back. “I can’t see it,” he wailed. “I can’t see the ocean! Where is it?”

Sometimes I am that way about God. “Where is God?” I cry, unaware that God is surrounding me with grace and love. There is a wonderful phrase in the New Testament (Acts 17:28): “God, in whom we live and move and have our being.”

Lately I have been starting my morning prayers with a little exercise I adopted from St. Francis de Sales. As I settle down to pray, I go through the following in my mind.

Almighty God, who is in all things, around all things and through all things, be with me.
Heavenly Father, look down on me, your child.
Son of God, be beside me as I pray, and help guide my prayers, and my day.
Holy Spirit, abide in my heart and my mind.

The Psalmist reminds us that the heavens shout forth with the glory of God, and the earth speaks volumes of presence of God (my paraphrase). God is constantly with us. God is a continual part of our day. I love the way Tevye, in the movie Fiddler on the Roof, speaks constantly to God as he goes on his daily run with his milk cart. You can tell that God is close to his heart.

May God be close to our hearts this day and every day!

Prayer

(From the Book of Common Worship):

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our
being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by
your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our
life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are
ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.


September 29, 2020 – Barb Haddon

Luke 5: 17-26

17 One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

MEDITATION
Several things stand out for me in this story:

  • The man who was the focal point of the story was passive.  He was an “innocent “liestander” if you will.  He was paralyzed at the beginning of the story; at the mercy of his friends and Jesus.
  • Jesus was impressed by the faith of the FRIENDS.  The paralyzed man made no confession of faith; just continued to lie there.
  • The Pharisees and the Scribes (teachers of the law) were immediately threatened.  Who are you to be forgiving sins, Jesus? Only God can forgive sins.
  • Jesus could read the thoughts of his detractors.  Forgiving sins and healing paralysis were one in the same to him, especially since in Jesus’ time, illness was believed to be connected to sin.
  • At the command of Jesus, the man did, indeed, stand up, rolled up his mat and went home praising God.  (I didn’t hear him say “thank you” to Jesus directly, or to his friends, but that often happens in the healing stories!)
  • The crowd was impressed.  They went home mulling over the miracle that they had seen.

The part that I would pick today is the faith of the friends.  They went to great lengths to get him to Jesus.   They had to carry him, on his mat, to the house where Jesus was teaching.  When they got there, the crowd was so big that they couldn’t get through the door, so they hauled him up to the roof!  They removed enough roof tiles to lower him to the floor in front of Jesus.

Jesus immediately went to work healing the man, first forgiving his sins. It is amazing to me that the man did not ask to be healed.  It seems that the friends didn’t say anything, but their desire was obvious by the great lengths that they went to bring their friend to the feet of Jesus.  Jesus was impressed by THEIR faith, and their obvious love for the man that they would go to such great lengths to change his life.

The message for us, I think, is that our faith not only strengthens US, and gives us courage and hope, but our faith can benefit other people.  We don’t have to be street corner evangelists, proclaiming our faith.  We can simply ACT OUT our faith!  We see that in the outpouring of help that has come in the wake of the fires, and in folks shut in with COVID.  We can find courage in our faith to create change in the public sphere, even when such activity is challenging.

In times that are difficult for us, we can hold the image of the faithful friends, and their extreme effort on behalf of their friend. And, we can hold the image of the man dancing on feet that held him upright, as he made his way home, rejoicing in his newfound health.  Be at peace, and go forth with joy!

PRAYER
Loving God, There are times when our faith feels weak; when we do not feel that we can manage the challenges that face us.  Remind us, we pray, that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.  Embolden us to serve you, and each other, even as the paralyzed man’s friends, in faith, brought him to Jesus trusting that he would be healed.  Amen.


September 28, 2020 – Barb Haddon

It’s Soul Food time!

Barb is bringing us the word as it pertains to the life of Joseph this week. That is one of my favorite stories in the Bible.
I’m sorry that Soul Food has been sporadic these last few weeks. Between the fires, and the fact I was sick last week, I was not always at a computer where I could send them out. But we are back on schedule. Oh, and I feeling much better!

Murray

OLD TESTAMENT READING GENESIS 50: 15-21

15 Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” 16 So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17 ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. 21 So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

MEDITATION

When I was in seminary, in order to take as many classes as possible in residence before the Air Force moved us, I took Greek and Hebrew concurrently. In the 3rd quarter, the Hebrew professors took pity on me and invited me to take a translation course in place of the 3rd quarter of grammar.

What a blessing THAT was!

The task was to translate the Joseph novella in Genesis, chapters 37-50.  One of the great pleasures, and an insight into why Presbyterians need to learn the original languages, was that I learned that Joseph’s coat wasn’t one of many colors.   Instead, it had LONG SLEEVES!  The long sleeves were a status symbol.  It meant that Joseph didn’t have to work in the fields like his brothers, and he got special treatment.  No wonder they were jealous and resentful!  (If you don’t remember the story, get a copy of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat! – it’s not totally accurate but it’s really fun!)

If you DO remember the story, you know that his brothers hated him so much that they sold him into slavery.  From there his life was a real roller coaster, but he finally came to the point that he was second only to the Egyptian Pharaoh during both a time of plenty and one of famine.  The famine extended to Israel, and his brothers were forced to go to Egypt for grain.  When they realized that they would have to deal with Joseph, they were afraid.  What if he gave them their just desserts? “We are your slaves!” they said.  The punchline of the story is that Joseph responded to them, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as God is doing today.”

The story is one of my favorites, and it has a strong message for the times in which we live.  (Isn’t it amazing how Biblical stories are timeless?!) We are living in such tumultuous times, with our nation divided and becoming increasingly violent, floods at one end of the country and fires at the other, controversies in Congress, and racial unrest in our cities.  It is tempting to scapegoat; to look for people to blame for the things that we dislike.  Since we learned that the Almeda fire was caused by an arsonist, it is easy to put him in the place of the brothers.  We want to see him punished!

It’s a time when our call to be loving is being put to the test.  It’s a time to trust that God is in charge.  It’s hard to see light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s hard to believe that the threats that we feel can ultimately be used for good.  We can see glimmers of hope in the community coming together, in the outpouring of goods and services, in the sharing instead of hoarding. It is a time to act out our Christian faith, to take a stand, to make a difference. When we trust, when we keep the faith, we will be reminded that God is love and love always wins!

Prayer

God who is love, we are experiencing famine in the midst of plenty, despair when you call us to hope, and division when you call us to unity.  Help us to see your face in the midst of loss, and remain faithful to your calling to love one another.  Amen.

 


September 21, 2020 – Barb Haddon

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy spirit that has been given to us.

MEDITATION

I am currently immersed in the study of the Gospel of Mark.  Working ahead of the class, I am now with Jesus “on the way” to Jerusalem.  His disciples are showing that they don’t understand him, and they are vying for leadership positions, and they are jealous of anyone whom they think may be encroaching on their territory.  Meanwhile, Jesus keeps telling them that he is on the way to Jerusalem, where he will suffer, be rejected, and die.  They can’t believe it, and they don’t understand it, they don’t want to  hear it.  And yet, Jesus perseveres, teaching them before he is taken from them, trusting that they will understand when he is resurrected, and attempting to replace doubt with hope.

I’m guessing that, in the wake of fires and still in the midst of COVID, we relate more to the disciples than we do to Jesus.  We want to trust the future, but there are a lot of people without homes and possessions, and many people still becoming ill.  We don’t understand all of the loss and destruction, and we wonder what the future holds.

It’s at times like this that I can relate to the Apostle Paul.  I struggle with him sometimes, but I am grateful that his experience with Jesus is through the Spirit, rather than in the flesh.  It makes it easier for me to connect!  The words above feel especially helpful at this juncture in our lives.  I don’t know whether we can boast in our sufferings, but we can relate in our sufferings, and we can trust that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.

You are such a generous group of people!  I know that there is an outpouring of time, energy, goods and dollars to those who were so seriously affected by recent events.  While we enter the lives of those who are suffering, we can trust that we will be given the stamina to endure, that we will become more empathetic and understanding, and that hope will emerge as we share stories and become vulnerable ourselves.

My prayer for you is found in Romans 15:13:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


September 17, 2020 – Murray Richmond

If a pandemic was not enough, we just had to add fires to the mix! Maybe you sometimes wonder how you can get through all this. Paul gives us some encouragement from his letter to the Philippians.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  (Philippians 4:13)

MEDITATION

I had a moment today. In the South we call it an internal hissy-fit. We have been running the shelter since last Wednesday, and it just caught up with me. I was actually longing for days when COVID was our only problem. Imagine how bad things are if you find yourself longing for COVID as the new normal!
Then I saw the truck. It was a blue pick up, and had the words for today’s verse printed on both the side and the tailgate. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

When I think back on everything that has happened this year, there are times when I wanted to head to the woods and get away from it all—and by all, I mean ALL! But that is not what God has called me to do.

Sometimes we are called to do things, as individuals or as a church, that seem very hard, or downright impossible. That is where this verse comes in. When we run out of strength or when the task seems too hard, we can turn to God. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can call on the strength of God to help us.

Paul is not promising us super powers. If we look at the verse in context, Paul has been talking about being able to do with what he has. The verse just before this one says, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.”

In other words, when Paul says he can do all things, what he means is he can do the task ahead of him, no matter what that task is. And he can do it with the resources God has given him.

When we feel stretched, we can rely on the power of God to help us. Whether it is getting through a pandemic, or living in fire zone, or both at once, God can supply our needs. We just need to have the faith to ask for help.

Prayer

O God, it seems sometimes like the ocean is so big, and our boat is so small. The things we have to do, or to go through are so hard, and we are so weak. We depend on the power of your Spirit, to help us do what we need to do to serve you.
Amen

 


September 16, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Psalm 33

The Greatness and Goodness of God
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous.
Praise befits the upright.
Praise the Lord with the lyre;
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings.
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
For the word of the Lord is upright,
and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle;
he put the deeps in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.
10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
the thoughts of his heart to all generations.
12 Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.
13 The Lord looks down from heaven;
he sees all humankind.
14 From where he sits enthroned he watches
all the inhabitants of the earth—
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all,
and observes all their deeds.
16 A king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a vain hope for victory,
and by its great might it cannot save.
18 Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 to deliver their soul from death,
and to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and shield.
21 Our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.

MEDITATION

In the book A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean’s brother Paul has a gambling and drinking problem. Norman and his father (who is a Presbyterian minister) want to help Paul but they don’t know how. Norman and his father are talking about helping. Norman is narrating the conversation he had with his father.“Help,” he [Norman’s father] said, “is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badly.
“So it is,” he said, using an old homiletic transition, “that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give, or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even mor often, we do not have the part that is needed. It is like the auto-supply shop over town where they always say, ‘Sorry, we are just out of that part.’”
If you have ever tried to help anyone, you know how hard that is. As I right this, people all over the Rogue Valley are falling all over themselves to try to help the victims of the fires. Some people don’t want help. Others have needs that we cannot fill. Sometimes the people trying to help are offering things that cannot be used. What Norman Maclean’s father did not say is that sometimes people want a certain kind of help, but that is not really what they need. The Psalmist says:
16 A king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a vain hope for victory,
and by its great might it cannot save.

Kings want armies and war horses, but the Psalmist tells us that is not, in the long run, what we need. The tools of power can only go so far. The Psalmist tells us:
20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and shield.
21 Our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.

There are real legitimate needs out there in our city because of the fires. People need a place to sleep, food to eat, and clothes to wear. They need showers and a place to be out of the smoke. We are trying to get that kind of help to the people who need it. I know that as I have done what I could to help others, I also stand in need. But what I need can only come from God. What this church needs is something only God can give. And there are needs that you have, the only God can supply. Let us not put our trust in war horses, but in God who supplies us.

Prayer

Lord, there are so many people who have great needs in our valley. Help us, so that we can help them. Give us the courage, the will, and the means to help those in need. And may we always be open to what you have for us. Amen.

 


September 15, 2020 – Barb Haddon

PSALM 98

O sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
have gotten him victory.
The Lord has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.

MARK 4:26-29

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

MEDITATION:

In the midst of the misery that surrounds us, it is good to be reminded that God is faithful.  The Hebrews went through all kinds of trauma during their enslavement in Egypt, 40 years in the wilderness, attacks by the Assyrians and captivity in Babylon.  They wailed and complained and were sure that God had forsaken them.  Yet, they were able to return to their homeland, rebuild the city and the Temple and experience new beginnings.  It was not easy, but God was faithful.  They were able to “sing to the Lord a new song. God has remembered steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. “

It is so easy, in difficult times like these, to think that God has forgotten us, or that God remembers but doesn’t care.  It is hard to extend ourselves to the needs of others when we are encouraged to stay indoors and minimize exertion.  It is a good time to remember Jesus’ parable about the seed growing secretly.  Without our doing anything, God is at work.  Regardless of what we do or don’t do, God is faithful.  Our job is to trust.  As with the virus, we have learned new ways to communicate, communities have drawn closer, caring has deepened, and reaching out in new ways has been possible.  We will emerge from the latest tragedy with new insights, new levels of compassion, and a new vision for the future.  We just need to trust!

PRAYER

Loving God, we have been so abundantly blessed that it is difficult to face the sudden and difficult changes that have been thrust upon us.  We are stuck in old habits, and it is difficult to make adjustments quickly.  Help us to know that you are in the midst of all that is happening, and to hear your “still, small voice.”  Help us to trust you, and to emerge with deeper faith and compassion.

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.


September 14, 2020 – Barb Haddon

Mark 6:30-44

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”
38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

Mark 6:45-56

45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.
Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

MEDITATION

The passages quoted above serve as “bookends” for a series of miracles performed by Jesus in Mark’s gospel.  At this point, his disciples were still not understanding the power and authority that Jesus held.  Even though they had had their own “field trip of faith,” and had preached and performed many healings in the name of Jesus, they still didn’t get it!  Jesus seems to turn handsprings to get them to understand.  He feeds 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish; he walks on water to rescue them from a storm; he continues to perform healing miracles to “all who come in contact.”  Still, they are fearful and lack full trust.

Here WE are sandwiched among the COVID virus, fire and smoke.  We need a miracle!  We have not seen Jesus in the flesh, but we know more about him than the disciples did!  When Mark 7:48 says that Jesus was going to pass by, it doesn’t mean that he was ignoring them.  It is a reference to the Old Testament, when God “passed by” Moses in the wilderness and Elijah in the cave.  It is a symbolic way of saying that Jesus and God are one.  I can just hear Jesus’ disappointment when they were fearful, rather than rejoicing when he came to them on the water.  They still didn’t understand who he was.

We, however, know who he is!  The call to the disciples is the same for us.  We are called to trust!   If our home is gone, we need to trust the generosity of those whose homes are still intact. We need to trust the local, state and federal agencies who provide aid for daily sustenance, and then assist us in beginning again.  We need to trust that God still has a plan for our lives.  If our home is still intact, we need to pitch in with money, time and energy to serve those who are still in shock from having lost everything.    We need to remember that from the call of the first disciples to the present day, Christianity is a communal faith.  We need to be present to one another regardless of our current status.  Whatever our situation, we need to pray!  We need to draw on the power of the Holy Spirit, and we need to trust that despite the drastic situation, God is in charge, and God wants only good for us.  We need to heed the words of Jesus in the storm: “Do not be afraid!”

PRAYER:

Loving God, we confess that, despite your words of assurance, we ARE afraid.  If we are destitute, we are afraid of the future. If we have not been touched by flame, we are afraid that what we have will be destroyed.  Remind us that we are not to store up treasures, and that you are the God of Abundance who loves us, cares for us, and will provide for us!  Replace our fear with trust, we pray.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 


September 9, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Matthew 6:19-21

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Meditation

As I write this I am sitting on our front porch, wondering whether the fire that started down in Ashland will devour our home. We are currently in a level 2 evacuation mode, and level 3 is only five blocks from us. I am hoping that when you get this tomorrow all we have suffered is a sleepless night, but no more. But at this point, who knows. I am watching a parade of cars drive past our house, all driving north. I have not seen a car heading south in about an hour.

It is one thing to read the words of Jesus on the page, and quite another when you have to go through your stuff, and wonder what to take in case of fire. What is really important to me? What is irreplaceable? Pictures, Angelee’s ballot for the first free elections in South Africa, paintings we bought together…obviously our dogs. Most importantly, each other.

Those are only important because they hold a special place in our hearts. If I were to meet God after this, I would not be ashamed of what I wanted to save, and of what I am willing to give up. (Although, given all the work I have done on our kitchen these last few weeks, I really hope that is not for naught!)

Tonight I know where my heart is, and I know what my treasure is. It is my faith, and my family, and my church family. I have been praying pretty much all day about that, that we all remain safe. What I find hard tonight is the uncertainty. And the thought that people I care for may lose their belongings.

But whatever happens, I know that God will see us all through this. Things come and go. Our faith is durable.

Murray


September 8, 2020 – Barb Haddon

Exodus 20:8-11

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Mark 2: 23-28

23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” 25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

MEDITATION

The above passages, juxtaposed, seem to deliver two different messages.  God instructs Moses that the Sabbath is a day of rest, and all must be honored in the observation of that day.  Jesus contends that it is the spirit of Sabbath that must be honored, not the ritual.  He was not reluctant to heal or travel on the Sabbath, because doing God’s work was what he was about.  He was willing to upset tradition, ritual and the social order in order to demonstrate the equity and justice of the Realm of God.

So – What is the appropriate Sabbath observation?

In his recent book, Sabbath as Resistance, Walter Brueggemann makes the argument that the commandment to keep the Sabbath undergirds the entire list of the 10 commandments.  Keeping the Sabbath means resisting the consumer ethic of our culture.  It means replacing “anxious productivity” with “committed neighborliness.”  It means including ALL of society in a day of rest; not just those of the leisure class.  It means taking time to focus as opposed to multitasking.  Mostly, it means to give ourselves time to rest and reflect on a regular basis. Jesus modeled full engagement with long days of preaching, teaching, and healing.  These were consistently followed with his disappearing into the hills, or into a boat for a time of extended rest and prayer.  If even Jesus needed time to rest and re-group, who are we to think that we are so important that we must go 24/7, often with decreased focus and productivity?

Perhaps one of the gifts of the COVID virus is that we have been required to slow our pace.  We have been given time to reflect on what is truly important.  We have even been given time to spend more time in prayer!

How will you honor God’s commandment to set one day aside as holy each week, and how will you obey Jesus’ challenge to realize that what is holy is that which serves God and humanity?


September 2, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Psalm 122 – Song of Praise and Prayer for Jerusalem
A Song of Ascents.

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good

 

This one of the “Psalms of Ascent,” which many believe were a prayerbook for people going to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage. The person who is praying this Psalm does not live the Holy Land.

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

The person reading this has made a long, dangerous and arduous trip to the Holy Land so they can stand in the Temple. One of the reasons this is called a Psalm of Ascent is that Jerusalem sits on a high hill, especially if you are coming by way of Jericho. You are literally ascending to the City.
This verse may have a deeper meaning for you today. It has been a long time since you have been in “The House of the Lord,” our sanctuary. How will you feel when we can finally gather for public worship? Imagine what it must be like for someone who lives outside of the Holy Land, able to visit the Temple of God for the first time in their lives.
Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

The trip is finally over, and they are actually standing in the Temple! I remember driving down from Alaska to come to this church, and how I felt that first Sunday when I was finally here in our sanctuary, how good that felt. How do you feel when you have finished a long project, or completed a long trip?
Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.

One of the translators of this Psalm says that Jerusalem is a city in perfect harmony. Most likely the Psalmist is talking about the stability of the walls, and the protection they offer. Jerusalem is not only a holy place—it is a safe place. What are the safe places in your life? Where are the places in your life that are “bound firmly together,” or are in “Perfect harmony”?
To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.

Here the Psalmist is thinking about the history of the Holy City. This is the city where David ruled as king. Here is the city that bound the various tribes of God together as the tribes of Israel. The seeds of the kingdom were sown here, and here they bore fruit. Have you ever been to a place that had historical significance for you? Once, when I was in London, I got to stand in a pulpit where John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had preached. I stood there and thought of the messages he might have delivered. I thought of the people who crowded to see him, and how his preaching touched their hearts. It was a powerful feeling!
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

In last week’s sermon I talked about peace—Shalom, in Hebrew—and how that meant that all was in harmony. The holy place of God should be a place of peace. It should be a place where people can recharge their spiritual batteries. It should be a place that attracts people to something bigger than themselves, a place that leads to humility, and devotion. Holy places should never become places of conflict. Do you pray for peace? We have been fortunate in that our church recently has had precious little conflict. Everyday in my morning prayers, I pray for peace in our city, peace in Portland, and peace in our country—a peace born out of God’s righteousness, God’s justice.

NOW, read the Psalm one more time. But this time, do it with this in mind: Early commentators on scripture believed there were four ways to read a text.

  • One was literally, so in this case the Psalm is about the thoughts and feelings of a person who is going on a pilgrimage to the Temple of God.
  • The second was as an allegory of faith. Imagine Jerusalem is not just the geographical place on this earth—it is also a holy place, any holy place, where we encounter God. So reading it this way, we read it as if we were visiting a holy place for us, and we let the Psalm carry us there.
  • The third is the moral sense—what does this scripture call us to do? In this case, visit those places which are holy for us, and pray for their peace.
  • Finally, and the most difficult to understand, the analogical sense. In this sense, we would imagine Jerusalem as the place of our final destiny, and all our life is a pilgrimage to heaven.

September 1, 2020 – Barb Haddon

PSALM 81:1-5

Sing for joy to God our strength;
shout aloud to the God of Jacob!
Begin the music, strike the timbrel,
play the melodious harp and lyre.
Sound the ram’s horn at the New Moon,
and when the moon is full, on the day of our festival;
this is a decree for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
When God went out against Egypt,
he established it as a statute for Joseph.

GOSPEL MARK 1:9-11

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

MEDITATION

Here’s a “sneak preview” into the class on the Gospel of Mark that begins Sept. 11 at 1:00 PM via Zoom.  Call the church office or Tam Moore if you want to hear more!

Mark’s Gospel begins with the appearance of John the Baptist calling for repentance, baptizing people in the Jordan River, and proclaiming that one was to come who was greater than he.

In true fashion, where much of what goes on in Mark happens “immediately,” Jesus seems to suddenly appear, and John baptized him. The details in Matthew and Luke’s gospels are missing; no discussion of who should baptize whom, just (Jesus ) “was baptized by John in the Jordan.”  Mark differs further from the other gospels in that Jesus, alone, sees the heavens torn open and the Spirit descending like a dove.  This was not simply a vision that the sky gently opened and a dove descended.  The Greek word indicates that the heavens were RIPPED apart.  They could not be assembled in the same way again.  It was a sign that a new age had dawned.  Jesus came to create change that could not be undone.

The dove was a symbol for the Holy Spirit, and the fact that it descended on Jesus was an indication that Jesus, indeed, was greater than John.  Further, the tearing of the heavens was a parallel to the Temple curtain tearing at the time of Jesus’ death.

The fact that Jesus, alone, saw the vision, is an indicator of one of the major traits in Mark.  It is called the “Messianic Secret.”  Jesus does not want people to know who he is.  Only demons seem to recognize him, and he always commands that they be silent.

This private moment between Jesus and the Holy Spirit is a turning point for Jesus.  In the first use of the word, Jesus is immediately driven into the wilderness.  He is not led, or coaxed, or invited, he is driven!  His adult ministry begins!

Most of us do not have such dramatic or impelling visits from God, but none of us is Jesus!  His was a pivotal time in history.  He brought the dawn of a new age!  Still, we have the advantage of being on the “other side.”  We have experienced Jesus through the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit in silence and prayer.

The story of the temptations of Jesus, which follows, reminds us that
discipleship is not easy, and that often growth is born of suffering. Richard Rohr makes that point repeatedly in his book, Falling Upward.  Faith is a gift, but living with faith is hard work!

As we live into our time of dissent, violence and disease, may we take heart, knowing that the world has been changed by Jesus, and we are called to live in His love and serve Him.

PSALM 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,
Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
listen to me, God of Jacob.
Look on our shield, O God;
look with favor on your anointed one.
10 Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.
12 Lord Almighty,
blessed is the one who trusts in you.


August 31, 2020 – Barb Haddon

PSALM 8

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their[g] feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

OLD TESTAMENT    I KINGS 19:9-13

There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

MEDITATION

Some background is needed here.  The story takes place when Ahab and Jezebel were king and queen of Israel.  Jezebel was a follower of the pagan god Baal.

There was an ongoing conflict between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  Finally, Elijah called for a showdown with the opposing prophets.  An altar was prepared with an animal sacrifice.  The prophet who could successfully light the fire by calling on his god would convince the people that his god was the real one.  The prophets of Baal did many incantations, appealing to Baal, but to no effect.  Elijah heightened the drama by pouring water on the offering 3 times!  He then appealed to the God of the Israelites, and the fire came from heaven and consumed the offering. The people repented, and Elijah had all of the prophets of Baal killed.    When Queen Jezebel heard the news, she was furious, and wanted Elijah’s head.  Elijah ran from the Queen, spent 40 days in the wilderness and went to Mt. Horeb.  He was resting there when today’s reading begins.

When God questioned Elijah, he immediately went on the defensive:  I, I alone am faithful.  I worked my tail off for you, God, but the people have fallen away.  They have forsaken the covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets.  I alone am left, and now my enemies want MY life!  (Barbara Haddon translation!)
What follows is the famous passage about earthquake, wind and fire, followed by the still, small voice.
This has long been a favorite passage for me.  There were times when I was a pastor that I felt like Elijah.  I worked hard, I spent long hours, and sometimes it seemed as though my ideas, programs and sermons fell flat. No one wanted to kill me, fortunately, but I did feel unappreciated.  I sounded like Elijah on a pity pot, wishing for more affirmation and encouragement.

I noted that God let Elijah wail, but didn’t let Elijah off the hook. God repeated the question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” and then God sent him back to Damascus to anoint new kings!
Elijah was the paradigm of prophets, and yet, like all humans, had times of fatigue and frustration.  Yet, discouraged as he was, he still was able to hear the voice of God.  He realized that the voice was not in the natural disasters, but in the stillness.  God heard his whines, gave him some nourishment, and then sent him back into the fray.

Our world may sound like that of Elijah’s.  There are floods on one end of our country, and fires on the other.  There is street violence and division, and to cap it all off, there is the COVID virus.  We might be tempted to reverse God’s question to Elijah and ask, “Where are you, and what are you doing here, God? And yet, God is never far away.  We are called, I believe, to make space for silence in the midst of the noise and turmoil that surround us.  And, in the silence, we are called to listen for that still, small voice.  When we hear it, I am confident that God will have a job for us!

May this be a week of listening!

PSALM 104:1-13

raise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
    and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,
flames of fire his servants.
He set the earth on its foundations;
it can never be moved.
You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
But at your rebuke the waters fled,
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
they flowed over the mountains,
they went down into the valleys,
to the place you assigned for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross;
never again will they cover the earth.
10 He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
it flows between the mountains.
11 They give water to all the beasts of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
they sing among the branches.
13 He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.


August 27, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Morning Psalm 147:12-20

12  Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!
13  For he strengthens the bars of your gates;
he blesses your children within you.
14  He grants peace within your borders;
he fills you with the finest of wheat.
15  He sends out his command to the earth;
his word runs swiftly.
16  He gives snow like wool;
he scatters frost like ashes.
17  He hurls down hail like crumbs —
who can stand before his cold?
18  He sends out his word, and melts them;
he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.
19  He declares his word to Jacob,
his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
20  He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
they do not know his ordinances.
Praise the Lord!

Gospel Reading John 7:14-36

14About the middle of the festival Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach. 15The Jews were astonished at it, saying, “How does this man have such learning, when he has never been taught?” 16Then Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. 17Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. 18Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him.

19“Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why are you looking for an opportunity to kill me?” 20The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is trying to kill you?” 21Jesus answered them, “I performed one work, and all of you are astonished. 22Moses gave you circumcision (it is, of course, not from Moses, but from the patriarchs), and you circumcise a man on the sabbath. 23If a man receives circumcision on the sabbath in order that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because I healed a man’s whole body on the sabbath? 24Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

25Now some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, “Is not this the man whom they are trying to kill? 26And here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah? 27Yet we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.’ 28Then Jesus cried out as he was teaching in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I am from. I have not come on my own. But the one who sent me is true, and you do not know him. 29I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” 30Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come. 31Yet many in the crowd believed in him and were saying, “When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?”

32The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering such things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent temple police to arrest him. 33Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little while longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. 34You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” 35The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? 36What does he mean by saying, ‘You will search for me and you will not find me’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

Meditation

This is a long, and somewhat complicated passage from John, but I want to pull out two phrases for this morning. The first is, “17Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.” (Verse 17)

Jesus said a lot of things that made people angry, especially the religious people of his day. He said a lot of things that confused people. He said some things that are hard to understand (“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple,” Matthew 10:37 and Luke 14:26), and some things that are hard to do (“But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you,” Matthew 5:44). How can we know what Jesus said was true?

If we approach Jesus with the eyes of skepticism we will have a hard time hearing. If we approach Jesus with the eyes of faith (being resolved to do the will of God) we will find spiritual treasures. That does not mean we have to blindly accept everything we read or hear about Jesus. It means we put the desire to be a person of God first, as we approach the teachings of Jesus.

The second thing Jesus says in this John passage that I want to accent is, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” This also takes the eyes of faith. I remember as a young pastor seeing successful pastors, pastors with large and exciting churches, who preached to thousands every week, and thinking that God must love them more than me, because of their success. That was exactly the wrong way to judge things! As I got to know some of these pastors, I learned that they were just human, no more (and no less) loved by God than me. I saw some seduced by their success, as if they believed they were special, and the rules that applied to most pastors did not apply them. I saw that some of them struggled with keeping their humility in the midst of their success. I learned that the most successful pastors (and the most successful Christians) are the faithful ones, who seek to love and serve God.

In the first saying, Jesus is calling us to see him through the eyes of faith. In the second, he is saying that when we look through the eyes of faith, things are not always what they seem. The widow’s mite means more than a million-dollar gift from a billionaire. The lost sheep needs to be found, even if it means leaving the 99 to fend for themselves. The hated Samaritans could be better neighbors than the local pharisee.

And dead people don’t always stay dead.

Evening Psalm 116

1   I love the LORD, because he has heard
my voice and my supplications.
2   Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
3   The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
4   Then I called on the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I pray, save my life!”

5   Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
6   The LORD protects the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
7   Return, O my soul, to your rest,
for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.

8   For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.
9   I walk before the LORD
in the land of the living.
10  I kept my faith, even when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”;
11  I said in my consternation,
“Everyone is a liar.”

12  What shall I return to the LORD
for all his bounty to me?
13   I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD,
14  I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.
15  Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his faithful ones.
16  O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the child of your serving girl.
You have loosed my bonds.
17  I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
and call on the name of the LORD.
18  I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people,
19  in the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!


August 26, 2020 – Murray Richmond

Morning Psalm 65

1   Praise is due to you,
O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
2        O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come.
3   When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
you forgive our transgressions.
4   Happy are those whom you choose and bring near
to live in your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
your holy temple.

Gospel Reading John 7:1-13

1After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him. 2Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. 3So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; 4for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the World.” 5(For not even his brothers believed in him.) 6Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7The World cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil. 8Go to the festival yourselves. I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9After saying this, he remained in Galilee.
10But after his brothers had gone to the festival, then he also went, not publicly but as it were in secret. 11The Jews were looking for him at the festival and saying, “Where is he?” 12And there was considerable complaining about him among the crowds. While some were saying, “He is a good man,” others were saying, “No, he is deceiving the crowd.” 13Yet no one would speak openly about him for fear of the Jews.

Meditation

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was a priestess who was cursed with the ability to accurately predict the future, but no one would believe her. Today, when we call someone a Cassandra, we are saying that they may be right in what they say, but no one wants to listen. Isaiah was told that his ministry would have that character. He would preach until the cows came home, but no one would take him seriously.

In today’s passage we hear Jesus say something even sharper. The World, he said, “hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil.” There are books and dissertations written on what Jesus means by “World” in the Gospel of John, but here it seems to mean the same thing as what Paul called “the Principalities and Powers.” What part of the World hates Jesus? The part that does not want to change. The part of that does not want to repent. The part that thinks that as long as they are happy, they don’t need to worry about anyone else.
For Jesus, the World is the money changers who were an essential part of a system that corrupted true worship. The World was the Pharisees, the religious leaders who took on the form of Godliness but denied the content. The World was the political leaders, both Roman and Jewish, that had him crucified.The World was the part of creation that could not love—that could not love God, and could not love its neighbor.

The really interesting thing is that Jesus has already told us that God loves the World. God loves the very World that crucified Jesus. God loves those who would become the enemies of God, hoping against hope that the world would wake up, and see Jesus for who He was to us–the one who brings us Good News of love and salvation.

We are told in this passage that the people were unsure of Jesus. Some were saying, “He is a good man,” others were saying, “No, he is deceiving the crowd.”

This begs the question for us—what do we think of Jesus? When he says we are to love one another, or love our enemies, do we believe he is deceiving us with words, or that he was the Son of God, and knows what he is talking about?

Evening Psalm 91

1   You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
2   will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
3   For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
4   he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5   You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
6   or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

7   A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8   You will only look with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

9   Because you have made the LORD your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
10  no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

11  For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12  On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
13  You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

14  Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
15  When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.

16  With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.


August 25, 2020 – Barb Haddon

PSALM 146

Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
10 The Lord reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.

GOSPEL  JOHN 6:60-71

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[a] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)
71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

MEDITATION

It seems that we were not the only ones who found yesterday’s passage hard to understand, and maybe to accept!  “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’”  Preacher and scholar Fred Craddock points out that, just as there were many sects in Judaism, so, by the end of the first century, there were many divisions among Christians. Churches were led by a variety of leaders, and not all told the story in the same way. The equivalent of Christian denominations goes back a long way!

Many of the folks who had been following Jesus fell away at this point, and stopped following him.  Jesus understood and accepted their decision, but I’m sure it saddened him.  He would have them rejoice at the news that he and the Creator God were one, but it was beyond their comprehension.

Because so many of his followers fell away, Jesus felt the need to ask the 12, his closest friends and colleagues, “Do you also wish to go away?”  Then I am reminded why I love Peter!  He is so human!  He sinks attempting to walk on water, he rebukes Jesus for saying that he will have to die, he even denies Jesus at this time of trial.  He often “opens mouth, inserts foot.”  At yet, he is there in the crunch.  When Jesus poses this question, Peter does not hesitate to say, “To whom would we go?  You have the words to eternal life.  We have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Then Jesus admits that he knows that even one of the 12 will betray him.
He was chosen by Jesus, but had his own agenda.  He chose to live outside the grace that was offered him.

Craddock points out that the whole point of this chapter is grace.  God invites us, in word, in sacrament, to live in the image of God.  The manna in the wilderness was grace. The bread on the Eucharistic table is grace.

Despite the fact that we make as many mistakes as Peter, that we fail to live as though we are in the Christ and he in us, grace abides and abounds.
Despite all of the difficulties of our time in history, we are not alone, and God will not leave us comfortless.  Take heart!

PSALM 28:6-9

Praise be to the Lord,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.
The Lord is the strength of his people,
a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever.

 


August 24, 2020 – Barb Haddon

PSALM 57: 1-5

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.
I cry out to God Most High,
to God, who vindicates me.
He sends from heaven and saves me,
rebuking those who hotly pursue me—
God sends forth his love and his faithfulness.
I am in the midst of lions;
I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—
men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.

GOSPEL  JOHN 6:52-59

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

MEDITATION

John’s gospel is the last of the four to be written; probably toward the end of the first century.   John is the most symbolic of the gospel writers, and his visual imagery takes us beyond the everyday events of the other three Gospel writers.  At the time of his writing, several churches have been established, and there is a growing distinction between Judaism and Christianity.  For the Jews, Moses the prime example of a faithful follower who put his trust in God.   Through God’s power, Moses witnessed manna in the wilderness to provide sustenance for the people on an exodus from Egypt.   Jesus claims, however. (in John’s gospel) to BE the bread of life.  He points out that those who ate the manna died.  However, he says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:50-51)

In the following verses, “the Jews” follow in the tradition of the woman at the well – “Give me some of this living water;” or Nicodemus – “How can one enter again into a mother’s womb?”  And now, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  In the words of Biblical scholar Gerald Sloyan, “John does not have Jesus back down, but has him wade in deeper:  not only must his flesh be eaten, but his blood must be drunk.”  Needless to say, the very idea of cannibalism was repugnant – even to some of the followers of Jesus.  But like the story of the woman at the well and Nicodemus, the words are not meant to be taken literally, but are a way of describing the fact that Jesus and God are one.  Jesus lives and serves because he abides in God.  Those who believe and abide in Jesus will not die as those who ate the manna, but will live forever.

It is likely that this, and similar passages, were the genesis of the Roman Catholic belief that as they partake of the Eucharist, by some miracle the host and the wine become the body and blood of the Christ.

For Presbyterians and other Protestants, the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper, is not a miracle, but rather a remembrance; a symbol.  “This do in REMEMBRANCE of me,” said Jesus.  Jesus invites us to abide in him as he abides in God.  However, Jesus can seem long ago and far away.  As a way of closing the gap, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper – remembering Jesus and his sacrifice, SYMBOLICALLY eating his body and drinking his blood.

When we next celebrate communion “together/apart,” remember.  Remember the sacrifice of Jesus, who demonstrated that he loves us more than life.  Remember our calling as Christians to love as he loved and to love others as we love ourselves.  Remember that Jesus invites us to live in him even as he lives in God.

PSALM 47
Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.
For the Lord Most High is awesome,
the great King over all the earth.
He subdued nations under us,
peoples under our feet.
He chose our inheritance for us,
the pride of Jacob, whom he loved.
God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.
God reigns over the nations;
God is seated on his holy throne.
The nobles of the nations assemble
as the people of the God of Abraham,
for the kings of the earth belong to God;
he is greatly exalted.

August 18, 2020 – Barb Haddon

PSALM 146

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
    the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10 The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

GOSPEL  JOHN 5:9-18
At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”
12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

The Authority of the Son

16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

MEDITATION

This story seems to prove the adage that no good deed goes unpunished!
Jesus healed the man out of compassion and to put him on the road to productivity.   (Too bad that it happened on the Sabbath – he and the man who was healed BOTH got into trouble!  The man was simply doing as Jesus instructed him.  Jesus didn’t say “lie here one more day and THEN pick up your mat and walk.”  He said, essentially, “Do it now!” Unfortunately, the man had not gone far when he ran into religious authorities.  They chastised him for carrying his mat, as that was considered work on the Sabbath.  He explained that the man who had healed him told him to carry it.  (Interesting, isn’t it, that they didn’t notice that after 38 years lying by the pool, he could now WALK!)  They were so rule bound that the miracle eluded them.

I also find it interesting that the man not only didn’t thank Jesus, didn’t express joy, but didn’t even bother to find out who he was!  Jesus later found him in the Temple (I hope the man went there to give thanks!) and instructed him to “sin no more” to avoid further ill-fated consequences.

Tattle tale that he was, the man sought out the religious authorities and “squealed” on Jesus.  The authorities immediately turned on Jesus because he healed on the Sabbath.  Healing, too, was work!

Jesus responded that he was following his Father’s model. (Though we all know that even GOD rested on the Sabbath!)  For Jesus, compassion always trumped law.    However, his response landed him in even more hot water!  He was seen as blaspheming by declaring to be the Son of God.

The part about Sabbath law is what interests me most about this story.  Patti Sprinkle is leading a discussion on Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann’s book,  Sabbath as Resistance.  He talks about Sabbath as resistance to anxiety, coercion, exclusivity, and multitasking.  We are asked to keep the Sabbath as a way of honoring God, not just on Sunday, but all week.  Honoring the Sabbath is to become a lifestyle – every day!  Jesus does not call us away from being law abiding, but he doesn’t want us to put the law above compassion, inclusivity, or to use it as an excuse to avoid doing what is both right and humane.

It might be an interesting spiritual discipline to observe our behavior for the rest of the week.  Where are we honoring God with Sabbath rest and consideration for others, and where are we blasting ahead to “have it our way”, or living as though “the one with the most toys wins”?

PSALM 30:1-3, 11-12

I will exalt you, Lord,
for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
Lord my God, I called to you for help,
and you healed me.
You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
you spared me from going down to the pit.

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.


August 17, 2020 – Barb Haddon

PSALM 135:1-7

Psalm 135:1-7 1Praise the LORD. Praise the name of the LORD; praise him, you servants of the LORD, 2you who minister in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God. 3Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant. 4For the LORD has chosen Jacob to be his own, Israel to be his treasured possession. 5I know that the LORD is great, that our LORD is greater than all gods. 6The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. 7He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.

GOSPEL  JOHN 5:1-9

1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.
3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.
5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.
6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath,

MEDITATION

The story of the man at the pool of Bethzatha is one of my favorites!   The story stems from the idea that, at this pool, periodically, the waters spontaneously stir. People of all manner of illness and disability come there, and, as the story goes, when the water stirs, the first person to get into the water will be healed.  The protagonist of the story has been lying by the pool for 38 years!  He is totally dependent on others.  He has no one to accompany him into the pool, and when he tries to get there himself, he’s not quick enough, and someone else always gets there first.

For me, the punch line of the story is when Jesus asks, “Do you WANT to be healed? (emphasis mine) After all, the man doesn’t have to work. He undoubtedly receives attention and pity day after day at the pool.  It seems that he has become a champion of the “poor me” contest.  The implication is that somehow, he is fed, and if he has a home, someone sees that he gets there and back every day.  There are drawbacks to his unfortunate situation, and yet, there are benefits as well.  (I used to tell our daughters that there were no secondary benefits to being sick.  They would be cared for, but not coddled!)

Jesus checks out his motive for being at the pool every day.  Do you really want to get well, with all of the responsibilities that go with vibrant health?
When the man assures him that he DOES want to be healed, Jesus simply says, “Stand up, take up your mat and walk.”  The man was healed instantly, and walked away.  (Note that there were no thank yous, no expressions of gratitude; he simply walked away.)

The story reminds me of when I was a Girl Scout.  I HATED the annual cookie sales.   (In those days, we went door to door – no booth at the grocery store!)  One year, I got the flu during the sale, and was confined to my bed.  My mother bought my cookies, and filled the freezer.  I am convinced that the illness was psychosomatic, and the secondary benefit was that I escaped the cookie sales!  If someone had asked me if I wanted to get well, and I were honest, I would have had to say…”not yet!”

The story provides motivation to examine our motives when we wish to avoid something.  In the man’s case, 38 years of disability was enough!  He DID want to be healed.  In most cases, healing of any illness, mental or physical, is a welcome respite.  However, there are times when we need to weigh the secondary benefits of illness against the responsibilities of health.  Something to ponder!

Stay tuned, tomorrow, for the REST of the story!

PSALM 112

Praise the Lord.[b]
Blessed are those who fear the Lord,
who find great delight in his commands.
Their children will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
and their righteousness endures forever.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
who conduct their affairs with justice.
Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
their righteousness endures forever;
their horn[c] will be lifted high in honor.
10 The wicked will see and be vexed,
they will gnash their teeth and waste away;
the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.


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