I have always preferred to identify with the underdogs, whether David, the Broncos or the Green Party. However, that preference may be little more than a wish, particularly in my current context.
I find myself yearning to identify with David, the outcast plucked from obscurity into respect and admiration. However, if I am honest with myself I am likely much more similar to the other expectant sons – prideful, privileged, confident and ultimately mistaken.
I often wonder if an authentic faith can even be discovered within the brick walls of academia or the pew-lined sanctuaries of our churches. Certainly we are not called to own our entitlement in apathetic ignorance. Where do we find a faith marked by sacrificial love and the potential for radical controversy? Are we willing to destroy the foundations on which our privilege is built in order to claim a faith grounded in the knowledge of a stronger love?
Granted, every context, every person, every experience is saturated in perspective, knowledge and value. Nevertheless, I hope we never assume that we are meant to identify with the biblical heroes, but rather are grounded in the complexities of our own realities and that of our neighbors.
SCRIPTURE: 1 Samuel 16:1-13 (NRSV)
Samuel anoints David
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
THIS WEEK’S THEME: I will be standing there
It’s been a rough winter.This winter’s record-setting snowfall and sustained sub-zero temperatures were enough to make even the heartiest of Midwesterners begin to reconsider his or her choice of residence.
Yet, no matter how cold it got, we knew that some day, maybe by July, warmth would return to Northern Indiana. We trusted the Earth to continue its orbit around the sun, and with it, we knew the seasons would continue to change.
The Scripture passages this week call us to trust in God’s work with similar certainty.
This week’s theme is “God’s work might be revealed.”
One of this week’s Scripture passages describes David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, being called in from tending the sheep to be anointed as king of Israel. We are reminded that God’s work may not always be done in a way that we would expect. Nevertheless, God, our shepherd, is actively working through those around us, leading us beside still waters and comforting us in the darkest valleys.
At times, it may feel like signs of God’s work are few and far between. We get wrapped up in our daily routines and our own objectives, becoming blind to the miracles happening around us every day.
Our task in Lent is to pay attention. Watch for signs of God’s work in the world, and bear witness to those encounters with God. As sure as the changing of the seasons, God is at work.
We can only live a few days without water. In a desert, where water is scarce, there wouldn’t be many options for finding water. You would have to go to the well.
When Jesus went to the well, tired and thirsty from his journey, he ended up meeting a Samaritan woman. Samaritan religion and Judaism were fairly similar, but they disagreed about a few key issues. Yet, those disagreements were big enough that when Jesus and the Samaritan woman met at the well, they both started to feel a little uncomfortable.
Jesus had three options in this situation:
1. He could tell the Samaritan woman to leave. He was a man and she was a woman. In this situation, he probably had the authority to do just that. He could deny this woman his company and access to life-giving water.
2. He could have left the well himself. If he didn’t want to tell her to leave or she refused to go, he could walk away from that well, leaving parched and tired.
3. He could stay. He could stay and talk to her. He could stay and preach to her. He could stay and learn from her. He could stay and create community, create fellowship, create a relationship. He could stay and she could stay and no one would have to leave thirsty.
As Christians, we thirst for the living water that Jesus offered the Samaritan woman. We meet at wells like churches, conventions and schools. When we meet, we often meet people who are different from us. We see our different opinions on key issues and we get uncomfortable. What we need to remember is why we came to the well in the first place: we were thirsty. God has granted us not only the gift of living water, but sharing that experience with a diverse group of people. So when we meet at the well, maybe we should stop thinking, “What should I do?” and start remembering what Jesus did.
SCRIPTURE: John 4:5-42 (NRSV)
The Samaritan woman at the well
So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’
The life arrived in a box delivered to my front door. There was no way the living being could get out by itself, so I gently opened the package. I found what I was looking for – an apple tree! It was carefully wrapped – the trunk supported by a piece of bamboo and its roots in a moist packing of wood shavings. I was delighted to see this new tree that would be part of my life for decades.
I had just been entrusted with insuring that the tree’s life would continue, so I needed to act. The tree was helpless in that box. I could not make it grow, but I could provide the right conditions (justified) so it could have a healthy life. I dug a generous hole for the roots, carefully arranged the roots in the hole, filled the hole with good soil, and added water. I stepped back and admired this small whip of a tree and knew that it had been ‘reconciled’ to its new home.
I have a love for this apple tree – and the many others I have planted. Because of this love, I prune it (suffering); I stretch its branches so they won’t break under the weight of a full crop of fruit (endurance); I pay attention to the unique shape and health of the whole tree (character); and I anticipate the annual harvest of mouthwatering apples (hope). All these processes needed to happen to this life – an apple tree that appeared to be little more than a stick of wood in the box – to experience a generative outcome.
And the tree has its own ways of boasting – or shouting praise – as it produces buds, leaves and an abundance of fruit year after year!
In the same way, Christ is the orchardist of my life by bringing peace with God to me. Christ’s love is proven to me year after year by reconciling what I was with what God knew I could be. In response I commit daily to ‘shout out’ that love to all I meet.
SCRIPTURE: Romans 5:1-11 (NRSV)
God’s Promise Realized through Faith
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.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
There are few experiences in life that match that of driving for hours through the winding mountain roads of the Andes Mountains, reaching altitudes in excess of 3,500 meters. No matter which particular moment during transit, your position or vantage point, whether it is near the base or the peak, these mountains are absolutely massive. Not only are they massive in size, but they are vast; they seemingly go on forever into the distance. I have never felt so small as when I stood at the top of one of these mountains and gazed out all around me.
It is no wonder that there are so many Scriptures that reference the mountains and the Creator of these mountains. They are awe-inspiring! In the first verse we are invited to sing before the Lord, our rock of salvation. Sturdy, dependable, accessible and into whose presence we may freely enter. With joy! We have great reason to sing with joy, because our God is available. Incomprehensible and vast, much like the Andes Mountains. And yet here we read that we may enter the presence of God who is available to us. We may offer our praise, should we choose to enter. God is, was and will forever be standing there, our strong and dependable rock.
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 95 (NRSV)
A Call to Worship and Obedience
O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
O that today you would listen to his voice!
Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your ancestors tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they do not regard my ways.’
Therefore in my anger I swore,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’
Trust and faith. The Israelites struggled with this a lot, and this is yet another account where we see the people of Israel failing to trust God. They didn’t have faith that God was right there with them watching out for their needs. In this passage, the Israelites were so furious that they were ready to stone Moses. Then Moses cried out to God and God provided water for the people. Wow. It’s amazing to me that with such a lack of trust and faith, God still gave them what they asked for. God is with us.
This passage reminds me of Matthew 6:31-32, where Jesus says, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly father already knows all your needs.” How much do we fail to trust that God will provide for us? We save up money for our own future as opposed to giving what we have now to the poor; we give only out of our abundance; we worry about things daily that are far less important than what we will eat, drink or wear.
Jesus calls these people who let worry dominate their thoughts “unbelievers.” Wow. Seems harsh. But it’s true. When we worry, we are not putting trust in God, or having faith that God will provide. We become unbelievers. So don’t be like the Israelites, who worry and get mad at God when God seems to be distant. God’s watching out for you, and for me. Just learn to follow God, and stay in touch with the spirit. Pastor Jim Brown once said, “Generosity is the cure to worry.” Just think about it. Give generously, love others and follow Jesus.
SCRIPTURE: Exodus 17:1-7 (NRSV)
Water from the Rock
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
THIS WEEK’S THEME: I will be standing there
My brother, who is three years older than me, got married last month on the beach. As I was sitting in my chair at the head table, I started looking at each person and I realized how our lives are all constantly changing. Time does not stop. We are not stagnant human beings. We all become older – our relationships change with our family and friends. We may view ourselves differently, but there always seems to be part of that same young child or teenager within each person.
It becomes so easy to think about the changes with negativity, sadness and fear. However, I have to stop myself. Tomorrow, and the change it brings, is a day not to worry about. The past has shaped each one of us to be the beautiful beings we are.
Instead of worry, sadness and fear, I begin to have joy for too many things to even list, but mostly the fact that my feet are able to dig into warm sand and I can be surrounded by my dearest family members watching my brother get married to a wonderful woman. I have hope that in the future, which will have its challenges, I will be okay with God by my side. God will be standing there.
The fear and worry subsides with the knowledge that things may be different tomorrow, but different is not a bad thing. I challenge you to enjoy today for today and not worry about tomorrow.
Matthew 6:34: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today”
Transfiguration is a daunting word. The process of being transfigured is difficult. But in Matthew 17, Jesus’ transfiguration was simple. It makes me wish that I could be transfigured into a holy being as easily as Jesus was. But read on in the passage, and you will see that a mysterious voice has one command for the disciples: “Listen to him!”
God’s words to the three disciples were not complex teachings about life and faith. It is easy to get into life’s rhythm and forget about the simplicity of faith, of listening to both God and to nature. God tells us to “not be afraid.” Jesus did not answer all the disciples’ questions, but rather he calmed their fears. It is through listening to Jesus that the disciples were able to find peace, and we too can overcome our fears by grasping the simple, but often difficult, task of listening to God and allowing God to direct our paths. And just maybe, through listening and trusting in God, we too can be transfigured like Jesus.
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 17:1-9 (NRSV)
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
My first thoughts about this passage are defensive because Paul’s phrase “the righteousness of faith” is often understood through Martin Luther’s writings to mean something given to us as a gift rather than something we earn by doing good works. I have not found Martin Luther’s dichotomy between two kinds of righteousness helpful because it rips Paul’s thought free of its foundations in the Old Testament teachings of the prophets, particularly Isaiah, from whom Paul takes his mandate to be the apostle to the nations through a ministry of reconciliation.
Isaiah and the prophets insist that true worship and acts of righteousness go hand in
hand. Luther reduced Abraham’s faith to one act of obedience rather than a life through which Abraham bore witness to the one true God by being the first to worship God alone. I think of the story told in the Jewish midrashic tradition, in which Abraham is left to tend his father’s idol shop. When his father returns, he finds the idols smashed to pieces. Abraham points to the one remaining idol with a club propped in its hands as the culprit. His father states bluntly that it is not possible for a lump of clay to do anything. By conceding to his father’s point, Abraham makes his first statement as a monotheist.
Just as the prophets found that true worship of God could not be separated from righteousness, I see in this passage an affirmation that the beginnings of righteousness lie in Abraham’s worship of the one true living God, creator of heaven and earth. The act of justifying the ungodly is the act of bringing the nations into a worshipping relationship with God not through the redemptive act at Sinai, but when God extends forgiveness to the nations through Jesus’ death and resurrection. God’s righteousness lies in God’s faithfulness to his promise to Abraham, that he becomes a source of blessing for all nations. Paul understands Jesus’ gift of grace as the fulfillment of that promise because Jesus brings Jews and Gentiles into one worshipping body.
Paul’s appeal to Abraham reminds me that we find God’s righteousness through worship of God, in which we recount the narratives of God’s mercy, repent of our failure to enact God’s mercy towards others, giving thanks for the forgiveness and blessings we receive and praising God for God’s goodness and the goodness of God’s creation. We go into the world inspired to honor God and Christ by enacting their righteousness through acts of mercy and offering the blessings we have received to others. There is no dichotomy between two kinds of righteousness.
SCRIPTURE: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 (NRSV)
The Example of Abraham
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
God’s Promise Realized through Faith
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
At 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 20, I opened my eyes to find myself on the floor, with a bruised knee, eye, hand and elbow. Eight strangers with furrowed eyebrows stood above me, waiting for me to speak. What are you supposed to say after passing out in public? As if I knew these people for years, I mumbled: “Hey!”
Do you know where you are? I did.
Do you know the date? Oh no! I never know the date!
With the hands of these strangers, I was pulled up from the ground. Under concussion precautions, I was transported to the emergency department of the hospital. Upon arrival, my heart started racing – at a rate of 216 beats per minute. Not only was I admitted for a potential concussion, but a suspiciously rapid pulse!
I was poked, prodded, jabbed and stabbed with more hands.
Tests, labs and scans returned with no complications.
Unable to ease my heart rate, my old ticker was stopped completely and restarted.
It worked! My heart rate settled.
Though I was met with continuous misfortune throughout the day, there was always a hand. Whether it was a hand pushing a gurney down hospital corridors or umpteen hands lifting me from the ground, I always had a hand.
It’s important to recognize that a higher being works in various ways.
In this case, hands. Lots and lots of hands!
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 121 (NRSV)
Assurance of God’s Protection
A Song of Ascents.
I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and for evermore.