heads up (hope)

On the first Sunday of Advent, we lit the candle of hope. The emphasis was on what is called the Second Coming, or Christ’s return, though I don’t think Father Michael used that language. The passage in large part clearly has to do with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. But arguably it hints of a time of the final judgment evident in other passages, when God’s kingdom will bring final judgment and salvation. One might argue that upheavals along the way, which bring on changes in cosmic proportions are signs which point to that final judgment and salvation. In my lifetime the coming down of the Berlin wall, the end of the “Iron Curtain” with the Communism of the Soviet Union come to mind.

Israel of Jesus’ time was in hot foment over the Roman occupation of their land, even of Jerusalem. What freedoms they did have were under the thumb of Rome. God’s promise to reign in Jerusalem and ultimately over all the earth certainly had not materialized, so they felt like they were still in exile, even though at home in the land of promise. And so many of them wanted to see Rome overthrown, or at least diminished. Though of course there were other takes in the stew, none being the way Jesus advocated, namely the way of the cross through which the new world order, we could say by death and resurrection, would come.

Father Michael emphasized the need for us as God’s people to patiently wait for the fulfillment of God promise to “put all things to rights” through King Jesus when he comes to set up God’s kingdom on earth, heaven and earth becoming one along with everything else, in and through him. Of course that’s speaking of final judgment and salvation. So that we can anticipate God’s justice and peace as in shalom, in the midst of the injustice and evil of this world. In the king whose coming we celebrate at Advent, King Jesus, we have hope.

Therefore our confidence does not ultimately lie in any earthly system, in fact we see such as subject to God’s judgment all along the way. But like the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple, which oddly enough were something of a vindication and salvation for God’s people in King Jesus at the time, we can rest assured that God is still at work in those ways in the world. Even as we look forward to the final day when at long last God’s kingdom will hold full sway, King Jesus reigning over all from the New Jerusalem.

And so, while we do well to keep up on the news and have concern for the politics of nations- here, the United States, we must keep our heads up to God’s promise in Jesus. To a gospel, a good news which is as big as all of life, the promise of a full salvation coming inside and out. Something we begin to see now, but to be fully realized when the King returns, our works through him now somehow figuring into his work even for that day.

The passages for that Sunday: Jeremiah 33.14–16; Psalm 25.1–9; 1 Thessalonians 3.9–13; Luke 21.25–36, Father Michael with a special emphasis on the gospel passage, in his sermon reading verses 5 through 24, as well.

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Luke 21:5-36


prayer for the first Sunday of Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

idols in the heart

Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’

“Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!

Ezekiel 14

John Calvin was only echoing what scripture says when he referred aptly to the propensity for us to set up idols in our hearts. And I mean Christians, followers of Jesus, even worshipers of God.

Of course true worship most certainly excludes such. Worship is a proper response to God’s revelation of himself in and through Jesus. It is dependent on the Spirit who helps us not only see the truth, but align ourselves with it.

But as there has always been, there are plenty of idols in the land. An idol, simply put is anything which either sets itself up, or is set up in place of God. And in our society and culture there are idols aplenty.

Anything can become an idol so that most often the things people idolize are well and good in their proper place, or at least elements of them. Whereas the good out of place becomes evil.

Idolatry, as we can see from the text, leads to evil deeds. We become like the god we serve (as it says in the psalms). Usually that’s a mixture of good and bad, which in the end doesn’t add up. But is deceptive, nonetheless. It always seems good to be devoted to something and do well by it. But we must beware lest that devotion stifles our devotion to God. We can end up being double minded, not serving God, or having the faith needed to serve him.

We must be careful here, because what may easily become an object of idolatry for myself, by grace may not be so at all to another. The idols referred to in Ezekiel were set up in their hearts, in other words, it was a heart issue. So that we must beware of making a list of idols. Some things may be much more prone to becoming idolatrous than others, but again, much is dependent on the take of each individual, or people group.

The best antidote against idolatry is the reception of grace in and through Jesus, so that we might learn to worship God acceptably with reverent awe. Sometimes we must take drastic measures ourselves to get rid of the root in our hearts bearing the poisonous fruit. But that will do no good unless it is replaced with the worship of God in our hearts and lives. With the readiness to receive needed forgiveness and ongoing cleansing through regular confession of our sins.


what does that have to do with life?

Disconnet happens all the time. People might attend a church service, crack open a Bible and read a passage or two, read something online, shrug their shoulders and say something like, “What does that have to do with real life?” And they have a point. Real life according to scripture begins with a commitment to the God who has committed himself to the world in and through Christ. Without that, the point of scripture is entirely lacking, is indeed missed. So there has to be that basic orientation to God in and through Jesus found in the gospel, the good news of Jesus, God’s coming and saving work in him.

That being in place, then by God’s Spirit scripture as God’s written word can begin to speak to  us, God speaking to us through the word. This takes for granted that we are reading and approaching it both in the fellowship of the Trinity, and in the fellowship of the church. God’s people are taken up into this fellowship together. So that we don’t do well reading it on our own, by ourselves. We need to read it ourselves and with others of our own church and of the church at large, including the church spread throughout time back to its beginning in Acts as the (“mystical”) body of Christ.

And when we read it in the tradition, we employ reason as well, knowing that scripture is written to appeal to us in our reasoning, and ultimately to our wills in our submitting even our reasoning to God and his will. God’s written word rings true in this context. And over time. If we expect as it were to be zapped and transported into a new existence, something different overnight, simply because we’re in the word, then we will be disappointed. Actually something of that nature does take place through faith and baptism, the beginning rudiments of it. But being in the word is part of a commitment that carries on through thick and thin, in spite of the lack of experience, being encouraged over whatever experience does help verify this to us. It takes time. But ordinarily in small yet significant ways in short intervals, and in life altering ways through the long run, God’s written word will do its work, one part of that: to connect with us in helping us see its truth and relevance to life.

It’s up to us in our commitment to Christ and to his body, the church, to continue on, in the word and prayer. God is faithful; we will find our way into God’s way for us in Jesus. If we continue on, not turning to the right or to the left, eyes set in a singular focus on God’s will for us and for the world in and through Jesus. Dependent on God and his grace throughout, to help us again and again get back on track, when we do stray.


Thanksgiving Day prayer

Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer


living well under pressure

Life consists of pressure in this way or that. There is no let up, and we might as well not only face it, but accept and embrace it. We do like those times when there’s a relative lull, and the pressure is more or less gone. Vacations can (and often should) consist of such times. And there are other times, unexpected, when what we have to do is relatively routine.

But when pressure seems especially heavy, and perhaps even threatening, we need first of all to accept it. Often our first response, at least mine, is to want to somehow escape it. That is particularly true when I face the pressure of what I chalk up to be spiritual warfare. Some would attribute it to pure psychology, and that is a part of it. But there are malevolent spirits at work on earth to deter and destroy good. They are especially set against the gospel, which ironically is not only their very undermining, but their undoing and actual defeat. We in Jesus have to hang in there, accept the pressure, and pray about whatever matter it is that weighs heavily on our minds. We have the promise that as we resist the enemy (“the devil”), they/he will flee from us. We have to hang in there and resist, which does amount to standing up under pressure.

It is good to anticipate the different kinds of pressure we may face, some an ongoing part of ordinary everyday life, and some which can pop up unexpectedly out of the blue, making the most sunny days of our experience overcast and even dark with storm. We need to be ready for that, realizing it is part and parcel of our existence here and now.

God’s word tells us that pressure can help us mature and become more like Christ, that God uses it for our good. We likely won’t want to say, “Bring it on!” But that can help us to learn not only to accept it, but even embrace it when it comes. It’s all a part of our development as human beings, in Jesus getting us ready for what God has next, which will be culminated someday when the kingdom is revealed in its fullness to the world. Begun here and now in Jesus and the church through the gospel, the good news in him.

we impact each other, for good or ill

Walk with the wise and become wise,
for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Proverbs 13:20

The original idea for this post was that we become like the people we hang out with. And there’s plenty of truth in that. But I want the emphasis here to be not only on how others affect us, but how we can affect them, how we all can and do impact each other.

Wise parents will want their children to have good company, other children who are being brought up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Proverbs 6:4). I struggle much with that thought, not so much on parents watching out for their children. And let me add here that I don’t think for a moment that the only children friends for our children are those of Christian households. Not at all. It’s more of a point that we want them to have friends who are being raised in the same way we are seeking to raise them, in the grace and fear of the Lord.

What I struggle with is mostly on the children’s level, though certainly can apply to us adults, particularly for those who are not seeking to walk close to the Lord. Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” He hung out regularly with such in a way which chafed against the sensibilities of his people. And we who are seeking to follow him should do the same.

We can relax and enjoy such people, and even be impacted by them in ways that are helpful. They too are made in God’s image, even if they may deny the God in whose image they are made. We love them, and therefore wish and pray for their salvation, but our love for them has no strings attached. It’s not if they do or don’t do this or that, or become such and such, then we will continue to be their friend. And we follow and live in the one whose holiness was not defiled by sinners, but whose holiness could be used to make the unclean clean, and the unholy holy.

Where the danger for us comes is when we are not seeking to walk close to the Lord, which in significant part involves what is called the common life of the church in which we regularly meet together and interact to build each other up in the Lord. If we flag there, and start lagging behind, we can set ourselves up to be influenced by people of the world (the media being a major player in that) for ill.

We can’t think we’re foolproof either, just because we’re seeking to follow Christ. And even if we hung out only with others so doing. And an important part of the life we are to live in the present is to reach out to those who do not know the Lord, who may be plagued with this or that in their lives. We are there to help them. And even to receive whatever help God may give us through them.

And so we live in the love  and joy, as well as the fear of the Lord. Seeking to know him and others, and to be known. Even as we seek to walk closer and closer with our Lord.