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For September 18, 2022

Amos 8:4-7

The prophet Amos lived at a time of prosperity for both Judah and Israel, the northern kingdom.  He was not from the prophets’ guild, but was a farmer.  When the Lord called, he heeded the call to be a prophet.  At that time, commerce was in high gear.  So much so, that businessmen were more acquiring wealth than justice and equity.  They often ignored the Law of Moses (Leviticus 19:36) and cheated the poor.  Amos reminds these people that God is taking notice of their dealings, and remembers.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Here is an interesting, almost contradictory instruction from Paul to Timothy.  He urges Timothy to pray for everyone, including those in political authority, such as kings.  This might make sense to you and me, but things were different back then.  

Timothy, and all Christians living under Roman rule were required to walk a tricky walk.  The Romans “asserted human Caesar [w]as the only Lord over the empire and the only living son of the Roman deities.” * All Roman subjects were expected to worship all the Roman gods and hail Caesar as their only Lord.  In the latter half of this passage, Paul states that there is only one god, and that Jesus is our means of salvation, not Caesar.  

According to this passage, we should all pray for everyone, including our political leaders.  At the same time, we need to recognize that our ultimate trust should not be placed in the hands of any other human except Jesus.  

*Sunggu Yang, Sept 11, 2022, Working Preacher.org

Luke 16:1-13

Here is one of the most perplexing of Jesus’ parables.  It has been a troublesome passage to understand for wise bible scholars throughout the ages.  I will not attempt to explain everything that Jesus says here.  Anybody who claims to have all the answers to everything said here is not to be trusted.  But let’s study it, and see if we can figure out what Jesus’s main point was.  After all, all parables were taught with the purpose of making only one point.

At the time, wealthy businessmen employed stewards to manage their business for them.  Sometimes they were slaves, and sometimes they were freemen.  Common practice of the day for these stewards was to charge a heavy markup on goods.  From this markup, they would pay Roman taxes, as well as make a lot of money for their owners, as well as taking a big cut for themselves.  In the financial community, for example, it was not uncommon for some to charge 25-50% interest on loans.  

In our parable, the steward learns that his benefactor disapproves of his methods, and he is going to be fired.  If this steward was a slave (it does not say), he would have been sentenced to hard labor.  The steward presumably eliminates his cut, thereby gaining some business allies.  The benefactor likes this clever move, and does not press charges.

Verses 8b-13 are Jesus’ conclusion to this parable.  Some of his sayings here are downright confusing.  But the main theme throughout is that we should be both faithful and clever, when faced with life’s challenges.  

In a way, this is one of the most applicable of Jesus’s parables for us.   Living our lives according to the teachings of Jesus is not always easy in this day and age.  Our bosses sometimes require us to work on the sabbath, lie and even cheat for the company at times.  It is fun and easy to sing “Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus” at church.  But if your boss is breathing down your neck and your children expect dinner on the table, sometimes being a Christian is a tricky walk.  We need to get clever, and find a way through this maze we call life.

For September 4, 2022

DEUTERONOMY 30:15-20

THE BACKGROUND

Deuteronomy is a sort of sequel to the book of Exodus.  It is presented as a final discourse between Moses and God’s people.  There are a few chapters of review of God’s saving acts, followed by many chapters of the Law of Moses.  These laws will define Israel, and set them Part from their neighbors.  In the final chapters, like the one we read from today, Moses calls on the people to make a decision.  Chose the God who saved you, and live by His rules, or chose another god.  Chose Lord God Yahweh, and live.  Any other choice is death.  This message mirrors today’s Gospel lesson.  Let’s summarize these two together.

PHILEMON 1:1-21

THE BACKGROUND

Paul wrote this letter to the affluent Christian named Philemon.  We know that he was well-off, because he was a slave owner.  We’ll come back to that, but first, notice the other addressees mentioned in verse two, in particular Apphia.    This was a Christian woman.  In a society dominated by men, it is significant that a woman is mentioned..  The early churches were small, and met in peoples houses.  This church met in one of these three’s house.  

Paul is going to ask (or command!) Philemon to do something that is not something Philemon wants to do.  It appears that Philemon expelled (or gave to Paul) one of his slaves named Onesimus.  Something unpleasant happened between him and Philemon, but we do not get the details.  Paul calls Onesimus “his child” (v. 10) and “my own heart” (v. 11).  He calls on Philemon to embrace Onesimus not as a slave, but as a brother!  (v. 16)  He is told to welcome Onesimus as Philemon would welcome Paul.  In other words, Philemon is asked (or commanded) to look upon Onesmius through the eyes of Christ, and not through human eyes.  

We, too, are called upon to look at others through the eyes of Christ, rather than society’s lens.  It should no longer matter if one is rich or homeless,  black, white, Asian, etc.  It isn’t always easy, but I’ll bet it wasn’t easy for Philemon, either.

LUKE 14:25-33

THE BACKGROUND

Jesus has been preaching, teaching, and healing.  He has acquired an enthusiastic following.  People are excited, and want to see and hear more.  It is time for a reality check.  Jesus warns them that if they intend to follow him, it will come at great cost.  They need to be prepared to give up everything.  Especially at that time, if you decided to follow Jesus,  it could mean severing ties with friends and family.  It could cost you your job and social standing.  Just like Moses, Jesus calls his followers to chose.  Jesus calls his followers to not be distracted by outside influences like family or money matters.  What matters most is following Jesus— putting God first.  We call this the cost of discipleship.  

OK, sure.  We live in a generally Christian society, so most of us live in Christian families.  But we have many other distractions that can draw us away from a total commitment to following Jesus.  

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

What are the things that pull you away from a solid relationship with God?  How can you reduce or eliminate these influences?

For August 28, 2022

Since I am traveling without my laptop, I will be giving you much shortened reflections, as time permits.  

PROVERBS 25:6-7

BACKGROUND

There is no error in the selection; verse 7 ends in mid-sentence.  I suggest crossing out the sentence fragment, or looking up verse 8 for the rest of the sentence.

Proverbs is a book of wisdom.  What we have in Verses 6-7a is a wise saying.  This is the gist of what Jesus will teach us in the gospel lesson, so let’s move on and summarize this with the gospel.

HEBREWS 13

BACKGROUND

These are the author’s concluding remarks.  They offer a wealth of advice for daily living. This is as applicable for us today as they were when first written.

LUKE 14: 1, 7-14

BACKGROUND

Jesus is at a dinner party where he notices some curious selfish behavior.  I believe this might have reminded him of today’s proverb.  He elaborates on the proverb, and what he says makes good sense.

He goes on to give some advice to the host of the party.  I’m not sure that this set very well with that host, But it is good advice for us to consider.  I’m not sure that we should be taking Jesus’ advice to earn heavenly brownie points.  But God the Father and Son are intensely interested in having us care for the disadvantaged.  How many times have I harped on this subject?  How many times have They harped on this subject? In the USA and locally, one in five children go hungry.  What are we doing about this?

For August 21, 2022

ISAIAH 58:9b-14

THE BACKGROUND

The large book of Isaiah can be broken into three parts—the time before, during, and after Judah’s exile in Babylon.  Today’s reading comes from the last part.  God’s people have returned to the Promised Land.  It doesn’t take long before they start going astray.  Each of the two paragraphs mentions one particular expectation that God has of his people.

THE DETAIL

  • God calls his people to turn to him and cry for His help.  “The yoke” He is referring to is their sinful nature.  He gives two examples—“pointing of the finger” and “speaking of evil”.  I’m sure that the real list was longer, of course.  (v. 9b)
  • Here are two expectations of God; two God-like behaviors that He would like to see. They should offer food to the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.  (v. 10a)
  • The remainder of this paragraph list the blessings they would receive, if they did these things, instead of the above-mentioned bad things.  (vv. 10b-12)
  • Now, the emphasis shifts to keeping the Sabbath day holy.  When God calls working on the Sabbath “trampling on the Sabbath”, you get a sense for His attitude about this.  He wants us to put our own interests aside on this day, and take a break.  (v. 13)
  • Again follow some of the blessings we receive, when we follow this path.  (v. 14)

THE TAKEAWAY

It is clearly stated, time and time again in scripture that we are to care for the less fortunate around us.  This includes the hungry, the orphans and widows, etc.  This is very important to God.  Somehow, it is less important to us.

Recently, I learned that the word Sabbath means “stop”.  For people of faith, this means stopping work.  For the people of that time, and for Jews today, the Sabbath begins on Friday at sunset, and lasts until sunset on Saturday.  Christians moved the Sabbath day to Sunday, the day of our Lord’s resurrection.  They argue that each Sunday Sabbath should be a “little Easter”.  Whichever day we chose, the concept is the same.  God wants us to have a break from our labors every week.  In our house, we try to refrain from doing chores on this day.  Instead, we do “other stuff”, like talk with family, go for a walk, etc.  If I’m working on some sort of project, I try very hard to not work on that project on Sunday.  It’s impossible to take Sunday off, when your boss orders you to work on Sunday.  But the concept is the same.  God wants us to take a break and honor him.

 

 

HEBREWS 12:18-29

THE BACKGROUND

I’ve already said that this book was written to explain Jesus’ place in Jewish theology.  But there are two more things to know about it.  First, this is a sermon.  It is one very long sermon!  More importantly, it’s primary emphasis is about faith, as we will see today. If there’s a third, it is that the writer uses contrast in his sermon.  He compares the good vs. the bad, then vs. now, and so forth.  Today, it is a Then and Now, a Tangible vs. Intangible comparison.

THE DETAIL

  • He starts out by stating that we Christians don’t have a belief based on something we can touch, see, or hear.  Back in Moses’ time, they did.  Never mind that if you touched Mt. Sinai you would die (according to tradition).  (vv. 18-21)
  • What we have is the invisible Mt. Zion, the heavenly city of God.  Everybody is there—God, Jesus, angels, and those who have gone before us (“the assembly of the firstborn”).  This is what we believe in.  We believe by faith, not by touch, sight, or sound.  (vv, 22-23)
  • Jesus’ life-saving blood is contrasted with the death-dealing blood of Abel.  (v. 24)
  • We should not waver in our faith (“refuse the one who is speaking”), like the Israelites did so many times.  (v. 25)
  • At Sinai, God shook the earth with his voice.  Soon, God will shake both heaven and earth with His voice, as foretold in Haggai 2:6 “For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land…”  (vv. 26-28)
  • So, keep the faith, and give thanks, knowing that “God is a consuming fire”.

THE TAKEAWAY

By definition, faith is the belief in something not seen.  Remember what Jesus said, when “doubting Thomas” touched Jesus’ scars?  “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  (John 20:29)

 

LUKE 13:10-17

THE BACKGROUND

Jesus is still on his way to Jerusalem.  It is the Sabbath, a day of rest, worship, and teaching.

THE DETAIL

  • It was common in Jesus’ day for a traveling teacher to preach the Word in the synagogue on the Sabbath (Saturday).  Jesus does just that at some undisclosed place.  (v. 10)
  • Jesus heals a woman from a crippling illness of 18 years.  (vv. 11-13)
  • The leader of the synagogue speaks up, objecting to Jesus working on the Sabbath.  In most cases, the Law of Moses is clear-cut on this subject.  Regular work was not allowed.  You weren’t even allowed to travel, except to go to worship.  On the other hand, it was OK to work to save someone’s life on the Sabbath.  Healing a crippled person was in a gray area.  Jesus took one side, the leader took the other.  (v. 14)
  • The list of work not allowed was very well defined, as defined in a non-biblical text that listed them.  One of the verbs listed was “to lead”.  You could not lead a farm animal on the Sabbath.  Jesus turns the tables on the leader of the synagogue, when he uses the example of leading an ox or donkey to a water trough to water the animal.  He knows that they all do this, so he calls them hypocrites.  Can they break the law to give their donkey a drink, but we cannot heal this “daughter of Abraham”???  (vv. 15-16)
  • The point is made, and his critics are put to shame.  (v. 17)

THE TAKEAWAY

Jesus repeatedly ignores the letter of the law when it comes down to showing love and compassion for others. The laws are a good guide, but the Law of Love overrides everything else.  Sometimes, it is easier to stick to the rules, and turn our backs to those in need.  Jesus is telling us to put love above all else.

 

For August 14, 2022

JEREMIAH 23:23-29

THE BACKGROUND

This part of Jeremiah’s story occurs at a pivotal moment.  Jeremiah has been speaking for God, condemning the practices of the king of Judah and the prophets of the king’s court.  He has nearly been executed three times for treason, solely based on his opposition to them.  Earlier in this chapter, God (through Jeremiah) has presented his vision for His people—that they should “… act with justice and righteousness,… do[ing] no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow…” (v. 3)  Instead, “… their eyes are on your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence.” (v. 17) Speaking up against these acts brought Jeremiah nothing but grief.  Very soon, the tide will change.  Babylon is about to change their lives forever.

THE DETAIL

  • Right away, you can sense the tone of this passage.  God is angry with the king and his court prophets.  God reminds them that he is both near and far; they can run, but they cannot hide.  God sees everything.  (vv. 23-24)
  • God attacks the court prophets for leading His people astray.  They have told His people lies; lies which support the king’s agenda, and not the Lord’s.  (vv. 25-27)
  • In the end, God says “let them tell their lies”.  But let His prophet (Jeremiah) speak the truth as well.    The wheat/straw sentence was puzzling to me.  I take it to mean this:  Both wheat and straw are from the same plant; but the wheat provides nourishment, while the straw is provides none.  Jeremiah and the court prophets are all prophets, but only one provides wholesome prophecy.  (v. 28)
  • The Lord’s final statement is ominous—His word is like fire.  It is like a hammer.  This is no idle threat!  (v. 29)

THE TAKEAWAY

The more things seem to change, the more they remain the same.  In today’s religious communities, there are two distinctly different “schools”. One strives to care for the disadvantaged—foreigners, the poor, widows, and the underprivileged.   The other supports leadership that is more interested in programs for the wealthy than for the poor. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

I wonder what God would say to us today?  Could He be speaking now, and we’re just not listening?


 

 

HEBREWS 11:29-12:2

THE BACKGROUND

I will continue to say this, because it is so important to understanding the book of Hebrews—this book was written to help the Christian Jews to understand Jesus’ place in the world of Jewish theology.  They had a firm understanding of Yahweh through reading the Old Testament.  The question before them was how Jesus fit into this picture.  Before Jesus, one gained God’s favor by keeping The Law of Moses.  With Jesus, it comes though faith.  Is this something new?  The author of Hebrews says no, and explains why.

THE DETAIL

  • We are presented with a very long list of faithful Jews from Old Testament scripture.  (vv. 29-32)
  • We read of the suffering they endured for their faith.  (vv. 33-38)
  • He then states that all these faithful people did not, unfortunately, receive the promise (of the Messiah).  The good news is that we do receive the promise!  (vv. 39-40)
  • The final paragraph tells us what we should do.  I’ll summarize it in reverse order. 
    • Remember that Jesus endured the shame of the cross, and sits at God’s right hand.
    • Remember that Jesus is our pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
    • Let’s set aside our sinful ways, and run the race of faith that is set before us.  Sometimes, we must persevere, especially when faced with difficulties such as those mentioned in verses 33-38.

THE TAKEAWAY

Over the eons, many have suffered for their faith.  This was certainly true for the early Christians.  They were called upon to persevere in the face of adversity; to have suffering endurance.  Even today, occasionally, we are called upon to stand up for Jesus.  When this happens, it’s time to lace up our running shoes, and run the race of faith!
 

LUKE 12:49-56

THE BACKGROUND

Jesus has “set his face on Jerusalem”.  He continues on, knowing what lies ahead.   He has taught his followers what all of this will mean, but many don’t get it or don’t want to get it.  Last week’s reading hinted at the anxiety that Jesus must have felt.   In this week’s reading, Jesus’ feelings are more evident. 

THE DETAIL

  • It is clear to me that Jesus is anxious about what he is about to endure, and would like to get it over with.  By “baptism”, I believe he is referring to his crucifixion.  (vv. 49-50)
  • Our Prince of Peace is not talking peace here, but division.  It was true for his followers, back at that time.  To follow Jesus meant that they must step away from their former traditional Jewish lives, and become Christians.  This would mean confrontation with family members and friends. Many would have to choose between Jesus or family & friends.  These lines of separation still exist.  But we’ll save that for the Takeaway.  (vv. 51-53)
  • The final paragraph might be understood to refer to the “end times”.  But, I prefer to think instead that Jesus was talking about his immediate future.  Everybody was happily following him down the road.  Jesus knew exactly where that road would lead, but others apparently did not. I think this passage was meant for them. (vv. 54-56)

THE TAKEAWAY

Many of us are fortunate to be able to live our lives in the same Christian community as our friends and family. Sometimes, there is a cost to following Jesus.  Sometimes, family members will differ on issues of morality or faith.  This is when it is important to return to holy scripture and review the life and teaching of Jesus. 

 

For August 7, 2022

GENESIS 15:1-6

THE BACKGROUND

The book of Genesis is full of ancient stories of the relationship between God and mankind.  The stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, and Noah and the Arc tell us about the nature of our sinful nature and about God’s desire to be in relationship with us. After The Flood, God took a different approach. He focused on developing a relationship with one man, one family—Abram and Sarai.  Today’s passage is one of the key passages regarding the development of this relationship.

THE DETAIL

  • God appears to Abram in a vision, and makes a promise to him.  (v. 1)
  • Abram enters into a discussion with God.  Abram does not mince words, but boldly challenges God to make good on previous promises.  Abram is old, and is concerned about who will inherit his wealth.  The custom of the day was that if there was no son born to the family, the family wealth would go to the head slave of the household.  In Abram’s case, all fingers pointed to his head slave Eliezer of Damascus inheriting Abram’s wealth.  This was contrary to God’s promise, so Abram asks God “What gives???”  (vv. 2-3)
  • God stands firm with his promise, and tells Abram that his very own child will be the heir, not Eliezer.  (v. 4)
  • Then, taking Abram outside, God points to the heavens.  He promises Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars.  (v. 5)
  • Remarkably, Abram trusts God’s promise.  God “reckoned it to him as righteousness”.  More on this in the Takeaway.  (v. 6)

THE TAKEAWAY

It is important to note that at this time in history, there was no bible.  There are thousands of pages for us to read in the bible.  Not one word from God was written anywhere for Abram’s benefit.  Abram left his family’s home to be a “wandering Aramean” solely on some visions and the encounter in the desert we studied two weeks ago.  That takes faith!

At the time of this story, Abram is in his 90’s.  Sarai is barren and also very old.  Abram is justified in his concerns about the future.  God’s promises seem very unrealistic.  Yet, Abram trusts in the Lord’s promise.  It is this trust that God finds remarkable.  He considers Abram to be a righteous person because of it. 

Understanding the words “righteous” and “righteousness” have always given me difficulty.  What exactly do they mean?  I have two explanations to share with you.

1. A pastor taught me long ago that the word “righteousness” means “right actions”. A righteous act is doing the right thing—something that would please God. 

2. I recently read a story of a person who visited the Holy Lands.  Their rental car was acting up, so they took it to a mechanic.  The mechanic looked the car over, and said that the car was sedeq.  It was a Hebrew word which meant that the car was working as it should.  Interestingly, this is the same Hebrew word that is used in our text for “righteousness”.   So, like that car, when Abram trusted in the Lord’s promise, Abram was acting as he should have; as God hope he would act.

We now have the benefit of many bible stories to strengthen our faith.  By trusting in the Lord, we are also reckoned as righteous (sedeq) in the Lord.

 

HEBREWS 11:1-3, 8-16

THE BACKGROUND

When reading the book of Hebrews, it is good to remember the purpose that the author had in mind.  His intent in writing this was to explain how the life of Jesus fit into the Jewish framework of faith.  In other words, it provided answers to questions like “Who was Jesus?”, and “What did he teach us Jews about God?”  Today’s passage focuses on the meaning and value of faith.  The author uses the classic Jewish model of faith we just read about – Abraham.  (His name was changed from Abram to Abraham by God later, during a covenant process.)

THE DETAIL

  • This first sentence is worthy of an hour-long discussion all by itself.  Maybe we’ll discuss this at length in the Takeaway.  (v. 1)
  • Verses two and three direct attention to Abraham, who is the role model of faith both to the Jews and to us Gentiles.  (vv. 2-3)
  • What follows is a long list of detailed faith-acts on the part of Abraham:
    1. He left his homeland, not knowing his destination.
    2. He and his ancestors lived as nomads, waiting for the fulfillment of the promise.
    3. He was able to produce an heir because of his faith.
  • This section is concluded by stating that all these people died in faith, all waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled.  If they ceased to have faith, they might have returned to their homeland, but they did not; they trusted in the Lord’s promise.  (vv. 13-15)
  • But because of their faith, God held them dear to him.  (v. 16)

THE TAKEAWAY

Let’s look at verse 1 again, starting with the second part.

Faith is putting our trust in something that we have never seen.  It is one thing to put one’s trust in something tangible; something you can touch or feel.  But trusting in something that you’ve never seen requires something special.  That’s what we call faith.  This is the thing that God treasures the most.

When we have faith in God’s promises through Jesus, we have hope.  We have the blessed assurance that we can have a close relationship with God, and receive life everlasting.
 

LUKE 12:32-40

THE BACKGROUND

We are into the heart of Jesus’ teaching ministry.  He has just angered the entire established religious community at a dinner he to which he was invited.  He will continue to teach and be challenged for eight more chapters before he enters Jerusalem for his final days.

If this lesson were a “red letter edition”, it would all be in red.  These are Jesus’ words and teaching for us. It has a few twists and turns in it.  Let’s dig into this, and make sense out of it. 

THE DETAIL

  • Jesus begins by assuring us that the Father wants to give us the kingdom.  Give us the kingdom.  We should not be afraid or worry about it.  (v. 32)
  • Next, Jesus gives us a little attitude adjustment.  He reminds us to fix our hearts on heavenly things, and not on earthly things.  Possessions can control our lives—get rid of them!  Focus on God!    Verse 34 is the key—God should be your treasure, not your checking account.  (vv. 33-34)
  • Then, Jesus’ conversation turns apocalyptic—he talks about the end times when he returns.  He warns us to be ready, with our lamps lit, waiting for the return of our master.  Remember, they didn’t have flashlights or light switches.  They only had oil lamps to illumine the darkness.  To wait for the return of their master, they would be ready with lamps lit.  When he returns, and finds them ready, he will be pleased.  (vv. 35-38)
  • In the next verse, the master becomes “the thief” who came in the middle of the night.  It is strange that Jesus calls himself a thief. But the meaning is clear—if we knew when he was to return, we would have been ready for him.  (v. 39)
  • The conclusion says it all—Jesus will return when you least expect it.  (v. 40)

THE TAKEAWAY

How do we “have our lamps lit” for Jesus in this day and age?  How to we ready ourselves for his return?  One of my favorite bumper stickers reads “Jesus is coming—look busy!” It was meant as a joke, of course, but the question remains.  How do we prepare for his return?  Some turn to intense bible study and try to lead sinless lives.  But to me, this is exactly what Jesus criticized in the Pharisees. Doing these things without regard to others is not God’s plan.  Jesus taught us to show our faith by loving everyone, even our enemies.  Bible study and trying to live pure lives are good things, to be sure.  But doing acts of righteousness by loving one another—loving everyone—is the best way to prepare. 

Jesus is coming—be busy! 

 

For July 31, 2022

NOTE: Today, the Good News comes from the second lesson.  For that reason, I have placed the gospel lesson ahead of the reading from Colossians.

ECCLESIASTES 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23

THE BACKGROUND

The readings for this week are very contemplative.  We will reflect on the meaning of life. This subject can be depressing, if you let it.  But it is a good thing to reflect on this subject, especially through the lens of a Christian faith.

THE DETAIL

  • The writer begins by stating that everything is vanity.  The book of Ecclesiastes was written in ancient Hebrew. The word translated here for vanity is very difficult to translate.  Other words might include “temporary” or “vapor-like”.  The meaning is clear.  Life is fleeting and futile.  Trying to make a meaningful life is a vexing, thankless task.  (v. 2)
  • The writer was not only a teacher, but a king of Israel.  In the verses omitted from today’s passage, it tells us that he has sought meaning through wisdom.  When this did not satisfy, he turned to pleasure—sensual, wealth, and the pleasure of hard work.  These, too, did not satisfy.  (v. 12)
  • Most vexing to him was the fact that all his hard labor would be left to his successor.  Because his successor did not toil for what he inherited, it would not be valued as it should.  I believe we have all seen this occur in our own lifetimes.  (v. 14)
  • This passage’s conclusion is not a happy one—even at night our minds are restless. (v. 23)

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

When I lived in the city, I spent a lot of time and money on creating a healthy lawn, just like all my neighbors had.  I’d water and fertilize it, only to find that I had to mow it even more frequently.  Looking back, it was a vain undertaking.  So much of our daily lives are filled with meaningless tasks like this one.  Which activities do you find meaningful?  Which activities are “vanity”?  I find that, at least for myself, doing the Lord’s work by serving others provides a level of fulfillment that is hard to find elsewhere.

 

LUKE 12:13-21

THE BACKGROUND

Jesus is on the road, teaching his disciples and to those along the way.

THE DETAIL

  • Someone asks Jesus to settle a family dispute regarding the distribution of the family inheritance.  (v. 13)
  • Jesus declines to get involved, but uses the opportunity to tell a parable.  We’re told that this parable has to do with our tendency to focus on greed and hoarding our possessions.  (vv. 14-15)
  • You may know this story.  A farmer is very successful.  So much so that he needs bigger barns to store all his harvest.  He builds them, and is content.  (vv. 16-19)
  • Just when the man thinks he has it made in the shade, God notifies him that his life is over.  “Who’s gonna get your stuff now?”  (v. 20)
  • Jesus concludes by cautioning people who are rich.  (v. 21)

THE TAKEAWAY

It is important to note that Jesus is not condemning the rich.  He is more concerned with how their wealth affects their outlook on life.  Turning greedily inward is futile.  Instead, he says that they should “be rich toward God”. Being “rich toward God” indicates a complete turnaround in focus from hoarding ones’ abundance. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

If you have lived through the Great Depression, or know someone who has, you are familiar with the compelling urge we sometimes have to hoard things.  Having an abundance of “stuff” may bring a certain level of satisfaction, but does it provide a lasting peace?

 

COLOSSIANS 3:1-17

THE BACKGROUND

This is the final reading that we will take from the letter to the Colossians.  The lectionary ends with verse 11.  I have added verses 12-14, since they are full of rich instruction for our daily lives. 

Paul has praised them and encouraged them in their faith in Christ.  He has reminded them that they have died with Christ and are alive with Christ. 

THE DETAIL

  • Oddly, then, Paul starts out this sentence “... if you have been raised with Christ…”.  That is an amazing thing to say, since he has already praised them for their faith in Jesus.  I think he’s using “if” rather than “since”, to challenge them to think “Of course I have been raised with Christ!”.  Paul’s point in this paragraph is to encourage the readers to keep our focus on heavenly things, and not get burdened with the details of daily life.  (vv. 1-4)
  • Since we are “in Christ”, we should exterminate all those earthly negative things that drag us down.  Paul presents a pretty good list here.  (vv. 5-9a)
  • But since (or if) we are “in Christ”, we have stripped off these old rags of negativity.  Instead, we are clothed anew, in the image of our creator.  We no longer look at our neighbors through the lens that divides, singling out racial and social differences.  Instead, we acknowledge that we are all the same in the eyes of God. And this is what our new clothes look like:  compassion, kindness, humility, forgiveness, and above all—love.  (vv. 9b-14) 

THE TAKEAWAY

By setting our minds on “things that are from above”, we can find the true meaning of life.  We will no longer share in the vexations of the writer of Ecclesiastes; live is no longer vanity.  Life is rich in meaning and value, because we are living our lives “in Christ”, wearing the “clothes” described in verses 9-14. 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

A teacher once told me that my salvation is not a one-time occurrence.  Instead, it is an on-going salvaging operation.  I know that I can “put to death” the earthly things Paul describes inverse 5.  I have done this.  But they seem to reappear, needing to be exterminated yet again and again.  I need God’s continuing salvaging operation in my life.  Perhaps we all do. 

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