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BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Eighteen: Wednesday, July 1st, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 13: 1-58

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“Sowing and growing”
Jesus tells us many parables in our reading today. First is the parable about a sower. The parable does not get off to a promising start as the first three examples are of soil that does not lead to a good harvest. Thankfully, there is a fourth soil, the good soil. That soil receives the seed and the harvest multiplies, thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold.

In a wonderful parallel to that parable, we have seen seed that has found good soil. Some seed landed among the eager hearts of members and friends at Dunn’s Corners, and the result is a sewing ministry. Because the seed that was sowed found good soil, our sewing ministry has brought us into relationship with some amazing ministries.

DRESS A GIRL AROUND THE WORLD makes sundresses that are sent through various projects to those in need. Dress a Girl Around the World is a program within Hope 4Women International that has been serving women and girls at risk since 2008. To date, more than 500,000 dresses have been made and sent to 82 different countries.

QUILTS BEYOND BORDERS makes quilts for children in need, especially orphans living in under-served areas of the world where the warmth of a quilt is needed at night. More than 153 million children in the world today have lost one or both parents. Quilts Beyond Borders has delivered thousands of quilts around the world, most recently to Native American Indians have been receiving quilts for adults.

TPQM Small Kennel Quilt Team is a volunteer organization that makes quilts for animal shelters that have been impacted by disasters. After disasters strike not only may a shelter be destroyed, but there are cats and dogs who have been injured, lost or abandoned, and these quilts will be in their crates adding comfort to their disorientation.

The Coronavirus has rudely interrupted our whole sewing ministry. Without workdays this year we have not been able to sow our seeds, so to speak. But we will be back. Even though our sowers were sidelined, many of them immediately transferred their calling and their skills into making masks.

Jesus refers to the harvest several times in this chapter on parables, as well as a mustard seed that grows into a mighty tree, a pearl of great price, and a hidden treasure whose discovery brings great joy. All of these images, in one way or another, are called to mind when the Sewing Ministry has their completed work on display. Oohs and aahs are heard and many expressions of joy and gratitude are voiced as we, the members and friends of Dunn’s Corners, stroll through the aisles and take in the beautiful handiwork. We have been assured the reception is even more joyful when these works of love make their home in places far away, touching hearts and bringing hope to people in need.

May these parables that we read today spark within us a desire to seek first the kingdom of heaven, knowing that when the good seed finds the good soil, there is no telling what bountiful harvest our Lord will bring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
As you read the parables in Matthew 13, consider these words about the kingdom. “Jesus did not say that the kingdom was like a rock, fixed and solid and firm and unchanging. Jesus did not say that the kingdom was like a giant machine that you put some things in and you get some things out and that what you get out depends upon what you put in. He said it was like an enormous tree that grows out of a tiny seed. A tree that grows so enormous that all the birds of the air can come and find shelter in its branches, even strange little ducks like you and me. He said that God was like a housewife who puts a smidgen of yeast in three measures of flour and that yeast yields its life into the whole batch of dough. That is the way that the kingdom is, growing from the very beginning into all that God has intended…From the foundations of the world, the very first moment of creation, it is the kingdom that has been on God’s mind, and God is infinitely patient as it grows.” (Patrick J. Wilson, “God is not finished,” a sermon quoted in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3, p. 265)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Seventeen: Tuesday, June 30th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 12: 22-50

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“Come in to stay”
The opposition is growing. All the people were astonished at the miracle of Jesus healing a demon-possessed man so completely that the man could both talk and see. They were so astonished they asked, “Could this be the Son of David?” But the Pharisees said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” As you will see in our readings from Matthew 12, Jesus does not shy away from this conflict.

At one point, Jesus says words that played a significant role in my formation as a person of faith. When I was in high school, sixteen or seventeen years old, something drew me to the bible. At the time I was not very interested in church or attending worship services. I did not actively participate in our church youth group. No one who knew me would have considered me a spiritual person. But I was interested in Jesus. I had been given a cool translation of the New Testament titled, “Reach Out.” It was a copy of the New Testament written in contemporary language. It was not a literal translation. It was more of a paraphrase, written so a young person could understand it. At the end of the day, at the end of every day, I would open that paraphrase of the New Testament and read a chapter or two. I did not read the whole New Testament. I got lost in Paul’s letters and I was not even remotely ready for Revelation. But I was fascinated with Jesus. I wanted to learn more about Jesus. So I read the gospels over and over again.

It was during this time that I read the verse from today’s passage where Jesus says, “He who is not with me is against me…” (Matthew 12:30) This particular verse is one of those that appears in exactly the same form in the gospel of Luke, chapter 11 and verse 23. I must have been reading from Luke at the time, because when I read the words, “He who is not with me is against me,” those words made me stop and take notice. Something troubled me about what Jesus said. You see, just two chapters earlier in Luke 9, when the disciples encountered someone who was not with them, Jesus had told them, “Whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:30) That was a watershed moment for me. Looking back, I see I was starting to try to understand the words of Jesus, to make sense of them, to wrestle with them, to try to incorporate them into my life. I felt like I had come upon a contradiction. I turned back and forth between Luke 9 and 11 many times asking what Jesus might have meant in two passages that were so different. Now reading those words of Jesus again, the words where he says, “He who is not with me is against me,” I give thanks to God that he has given us a book we can wrestle with, examine and explore, compare and contrast, all in an effort to know Jesus better and understand him more fully.

Jesus tells about an evil spirit who comes out of a house only to return later and find the house unoccupied. The house had been emptied out of the evil spirit, but nothing had come in to fill that empty place. Around the time I was first learning to wrestle with God’s word, I realized there was a deep emptiness in my heart. I was searching for someone to fill that emptiness. I am so grateful God did not leave my heart empty. Jesus Christ himself came in and filled my heart, filled my life, giving me a sense of meaning and purpose, a sense of joy and peace that has sustained me now for more than forty years.

A children’s song says, “Into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart Lord Jesus. Come in today, come in to stay, come into my heart Lord Jesus.” When my heart was empty, Jesus came in to stay. He will do the same for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
“The idea of an unforgivable sin, axiomatic to first-century Jews and Christians, is problematic to modern Christians, because it seems to set limits on God’s ability to deal with even the worst sinners. It is probably that Jesus and others who espoused the idea of an unforgivable sin did not by any means intend thereby to restrict God but wanted instead to emphasize as strongly as possible that human resistance to God is ultimately futile. God’s patience with those who insist on calling good evil and evil good will come to an end. Innumerable Christians have tormented themselves unnecessarily by the thought that they are guilty of the unforgivable sin. As wise interpreters have frequently reminded us, those who worry about the unforgivable sin cannot be guilty of it!” (Douglas Hare, Matthew, 140, 141)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Sixteen: Monday, June 29th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 12:1-21

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“Mercy, not sacrifice”
Once again, the Old Testament helps us gain a better understanding of Matthew’s gospel. The actions of the disciples lead the Pharisees to challenge Jesus with allowing unlawful behavior on the Sabbath. Seeking to assert his authority over the Sabbath, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,” Jesus answers the challenge of the Pharisees with a challenge of his own, to learn the meaning of these words, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Jesus is quoting from the Old Testament prophet Hosea, chapter 6, and verse 6.

If those words from Hosea sound familiar, it is because Jesus has already turned to the prophet when he was called to account for eating with tax collectors and sinners in chapter 9. Using the exact same passage, Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13)

Using an Old Testament passage twice is not unprecedented in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew uses another passage two times. The other passage is Leviticus 19:18, where we read the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The importance of the command to love our neighbor alerts us to the importance of the passage from Hosea, which in my reading is the only other passage referred to twice.

In our interactions with other people, particularly ones the religious leaders look down on, ones labeled as “Tax collectors and sinners,” Jesus calls for mercy, not sacrifice. When practicing God’s central command of observing the Sabbath, Jesus calls for mercy, not sacrifice. We have to be careful with the Sabbath, because we could easily set the Sabbath aside and say it is legalistic and outdated and it does not fit with the freedom we have in Christ. The numerous examples of Jesus observing the Sabbath serve to let us know we are not to cast the Sabbath aside.

And yet we learn much from the way Jesus observed the Sabbath. Jesus links Sabbath observance with mercy. Could it be that a people who carefully observe the Sabbath discover that God is shaping within them hearts that are merciful, hearts that learn to trust God completely, hearts that revel in and relish the delight of having time set aside to give ourselves wholly to the one who gave himself wholly for us? And if that is true, doesn’t it make sense that we who have been loved so completely and so deeply would in turn develop a deep love and concern for our fellow human beings, for the needs of ones who are also created in the image of our good and giving God?

Here are two things you might explore.

  1. Read Genesis 2:1-3. On the first seventh day, the seventh day of Creation, God rested. God not only rested, God blessed the seventh day. If the Sabbath day is a day blessed by God, how does Jesus seek to extend the Sabbath blessing to others?
  2. Sabbath observance is built into the fabric of Israel’s covenant with God. The command to observe the Sabbath receives mention both in Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15. There is a slight variation between the commandments as they are listed. The Exodus passage links Sabbath observance to God’s wonderful work creating the heavens and the earth. In Deuteronomy our Sabbath observance causes us to remember that we were once slaves in Egypt who never had anyone concerned enough to give us a day of rest. Now our Deliverer graciously grants us a day of rest. And whether the motivation for Sabbath observance is God’s good creation or God’s gracious act of deliverance, one of the ways Israel was called to observe Sabbath was by showing concern for others who were less fortunate, even vulnerable, their servants, and yes, the aliens and foreigners who lived among them.

With those thoughts to guide us, let us seek to understand what it means that God loves mercy, not sacrifice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
“The words of Jesus have irony: ‘So it is biblical on the Sabbath day to do the right thing.’ God’s purposes in giving the Sabbath command were for the good of human beings, to give them a rest, to contribute to their physical and spiritual health, to give people time to ‘be’ and not just ‘do,’ and then to give them time for worship, which is the world’s most wholesome reality. ‘It is biblical to do good on the Sabbath.’ The fact that the Pharisees have to be told this shows the pit into which they have fallen.” (Bruner, The Christbook, p. 452)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Fifteen: Friday, June 26th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 11:1-30

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“Great expectations”
“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” In a very real sense, the gospels all have the same intent, to announce to the world that Jesus is the one. Jesus is the one who has been long expected by Israel. To hear John the Baptist ask that question catches us off guard, because the Baptist had spoken so clearly at the Jordan that one was coming after him who was more powerful than him, who would baptize not with water but with the Holy Spirit. And yet questions obviously linger for John the Baptist.

While the question of the Baptist might catch us off guard, it can also serve to raise our guard, to heighten our awareness, to help us pay close attention to what is being revealed in the Gospel narrative. If we do pay close attention we will discover how clearly and definitively it is proven that Jesus is the Beloved Son of God, and how with Jesus God is well pleased. So Matthew 11 gives Jesus the chance to report on all that people have been hearing and seeing: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. That is what has already happened. And we are only up to chapter 11. The question of the Baptist has prepared us to pay close attention to what follows in the remaining chapters and how the events that unfold will help us move from the question, “Are you the one?”, to the bold and beautiful declaration, “You are the one!”

Earlier in our readings I made reference to the key role the Old Testament prophet Malachi plays in preparing our hearts for the coming of the Messiah. The question from John the Baptist provides Jesus the opportunity to connect the ministry of the Baptist to God’s prophetic promise in Malachi. “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” (Malachi 3:1) Jesus makes a direct connection between his coming and the coming of John, who came before him to prepare the way for him.

Those who take time to explore the four chapters that make up the book of Malachi will find an unexpected surprise about the long expected Jesus. One of the most beloved Christmas carols draws directly from Malachi to help proclaim the good news of great joy that caused a choir of angels to sing, “Glory to the newborn King.” In a delightful little book entitled “Mr. Dickens and his Christmas Carol” the author suggests that Dickens favorite carol was “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Frank Capra used that very carol to bring his chronicle of George Bailey’s wonderful life to a soaring and happy conclusion with the whole cast joining to sing, “Joyful all ye nations rise…”

When Charles Wesley wrote his Christmas favorite he not only told the story of the birth of Christ, he drew on Malachi to announce that Jesus was the one whose coming the prophets foretold.  In Malachi 4:2 we read, “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” That verse in Malachi, a verse pointing to the long expected Savior who would one day bring salvation to this earth, is featured prominently in the third verse of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the sun of righteousness!

Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings.

Today John the Baptist wants to know if Jesus is the one. Charles Wesley and a multitude of joyful souls have discovered the truth that Jesus is the one. So I leave you with words declaring Jesus is indeed the one who brings salvation to this earth.

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn king. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled.”

Joyful, all ye nations rise; join the triumph of the skies; with the angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn king!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
The twentieth-century Protestant theologian Karl Barth regarded John the Baptist as the prototype of Christian discipleship. Over Barth’s desk in Basel, Switzerland, hung a reproduction of the Isenheim altarpiece (executed by Matthias Grunewald). To the left, John the beloved disciple holds Mary, Jesus’ mother, as she looks in horror at the body, pierced body of her Son on the cross. To the right, John the Baptist, in bare feet and camel’s hair cloak, holds a book in one hand and with the other raises his long bony index finger toward Jesus on the cross. That, says Barth, is true discipleship; simply to point to all that God has done for us in Christ…In John the Baptist, we find an answer: to be a disciple is no longer to look at oneself, but rather to look at Christ. In pointing to him alone, the disciple’s own identity finally becomes clear: “Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God. I am thine.” John Burgess, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, p. 72) The final lines Burgess quotes are from Dietrich Bonheoffer in his letters and papers from prison.

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Fourteen: Thursday, June 25th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 10:1-42

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“I am sending you”
Reading Matthew 10 for the umpteenth time, it occurred to me for the umpteenth time there is much in this particular chapter I do not understand. I’m curious how you will respond to this chapter. Jesus says words that sound very different from the comforting words of the beatitudes. Jesus says words about family relationships that seem to contradict his words about loving others. Jesus says words that seem to be the opposite of blessing those who are peacemakers. There is much in this particular chapter I do not understand.

Then it occurred to me why there is much in this chapter I do not understand. My life is so drastically different from those first disciples. At 19 years of age I heard the call of Jesus to be a pastor and I was eventually sent out as a pastor. But my call and sending looked nothing like the call and sending of those first disciples.

    • I was raised in a church, surrounded and supported by an established community of believers who nurtured me, cared for me, challenged me, encouraged me, and supported me in tangible ways every step of my journey.
    • I was sent to serve churches that had buildings, budgets, and boards. There was an infrastructure in place with policies and procedures.
    • I was called into a denomination that had the benefit of 200 plus years of a rich history, a network that covered not only our entire nation but one that connected me to workers all around the world.
    • I had a salary, a steady flow of income.
    • I had access to a seminary, to libraries, to professors, to mentors, to fellow staff members, to local clergy groups, and to colleagues who helped me work through whatever challenges would arise.

In short, my call and sending was nothing like those first disciples, those first ones who were sent. They went into uncharted territory. They went with a small and fledgling support system. They had no experience in church planting or establishing and forming a community. And they went into a world that was in many ways hostile to the message and to the messengers. These first disciples faced opposition, hardship, personal struggles, imprisonment, and even persecution.

Reading Matthew 10 for the umpteenth time has encouraged me to do two things. Without understanding everything in this passage, these are the two things I will do as I read this chapter today.

    1. Try to understand what these words might have meant for those first disciples as Jesus sent them out on a mission of unparalleled risk and a mission that had yet to contain any infrastructure or support system.
    2. Try to understand what these words might have to say to me, to us, as we seek to continue carrying the word of our Lord Jesus into our particular world, at our particular time, in our particular place(s) of ministry.

To these I will add a third.

 3.  I will give thanks for the support system that surrounds me. I will give thanks for those who went ahead of me. I will give thanks for the ones who trained and equipped, who comforted and supported, who blessed and encouraged me. And I will give thanks for the people I serve alongside, for the congregation and individuals who are my brothers and sisters in faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
“The intent of verses 7-8 is summarized in the two imperatives ‘preach’ and ‘heal’. As in the ministry of Jesus, the disciples’ proclamation of the good news of the kingdom must be corroborated by signs of the kingdom. Although the miracles they are empowered to effect are not insignificant, the emphasis clearly lies less on producing spectacular displays of supernatural power than on manifesting concern for God’s hurting people. The message about the coming of God’s rule must be rendered believable through concrete demonstrations of God’s caring. The modern church understands this principle and tires to be faithful to it. Mission boards send out not only evangelists but medical personnel, educators, agricultural missionaries, and others who will communicate the living gospel through visible acts of compassion. Likewise churches reach out to their neighborhoods in effective evangelism when concern for souls is accompanied by genuine concern for bodily existence…There must be no divorce between ‘preach’ and ‘heal.’” (Douglas Ware, Matthew, p. 112)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Thirteen: Wednesday, June 24th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 9:18-38

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“No longer alone”
Our readings this week have focused on how Jesus not only preaches and teaches, he also reaches out with the love of God. This began when he touched the leper in the first verses of chapter 8. Following quickly one after the other are stories of the centurion and his servant, a visit to Peter’s house where not only is Peter’s mother-in-law healed but many others. Two demon-possessed men are set free, a paralytic receives the gift of forgiveness and the ability to walk, Matthew leaves his tax collectors booth and soon hosts a party for Jesus, and now in our readings this morning a dead girl is raised to life, two blind men receive sight and a man who was mute receives the gift of speech. In the midst of all these miraculous examples of Jesus reaching out to touch the lives of ones in desperate need there is the woman who has suffered from bleeding for twelve years. In a very real way, her story stands alone.

The story of the woman who suffered with bleeding for twelve years stands alone because she was alone…all alone.

    • The ill servant had a master, the centurion, who intervened on his behalf.
    • Peter’s mother-in-law had a family network, including that disciple who would play such a pivotal role in the gospel.
    • The demon-possessed men had each other…there were at least two of them.
    • The same with the blind men…two of them as well.
    • The paralytic was carried to Jesus on a mat…the other gospels tell us his friends carried him.
    • The man who was mute was also brought to Jesus. He had someone to bring him to Jesus.
    • The little girl who died had her father, and a whole host of others at her home, flute players and a crowd who gathered to mourn.
    • The leper had no one with him. Like the woman, he too was alone. But he did have Jesus. He had the attention of Jesus. He knelt before Jesus and made his plea.

The woman who suffered from bleeding was apparently unnoticed even by Jesus. She was truly alone. Mark tells us a large crowd was pressing around Jesus. This even heightens the sense that she was alone. She was in a crowd, surrounded by others, and yet she was alone. The woman who suffered from bleeding was all alone, unnoticed even by Jesus.

With the leper, it was Jesus who reached out and touched. Here in Matthew 9 we see yet another beautiful illustration of how Jesus impacts the lives of real human beings, real human beings who suffer from illness, real human beings who suffer from isolation. The woman reaches out and touches Jesus. Jesus is not untouchable. Her act was bold, but she was not rebuked. She was not shamed. Instead of rebuke or shame, when Jesus addresses the woman he calls her a word that must have warmed her heart. Jesus calls her, “Daughter.” With one simple word Jesus let this woman know she had people…she had relationships…she had a family. She belonged. She was no longer alone. And neither are we.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
“The men and women listening to this passage who may be contemplating their own ailments or questioning their own worthiness should be encouraged by the universal accessibility this story ascribes to Jesus. Ministers and other leaders may find their lofty positions all the more precarious as they listen to the hypocritical denunciations of the scoffing Pharisees, yet they can find comfort in the attention Jesus pays to a synagogue leader who approaches him with a father’s plea. Those in the congregation who are sitting with invisible pains or who do not feel comfortable with voicing their concerns can be reassured by the inclusive invitation Jesus extends to Matthew and inspired by the plucky faith of a longsuffering woman.” (Alexander Wimberly, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3, p. 120)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Twelve: Tuesday, June 23th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 9:1-17

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“His presence is his present”
The Wise Men entered the stable in Bethlehem and honored Jesus with their presents. In our reading today Jesus enters the home of Matthew the tax collector and honors him with his presence. His presence was his present. Jesus is being just who the prophet Isaiah promised he would be, Immanuel, God with us.

With chapter nine we begin to see that the presence of Jesus in places and in ways the religious people did not find acceptable plants the seed of dissension. Jesus offers forgiveness to a paralyzed man. The teachers of the law silently charge him with blasphemy. Jesus has dinner at Matthew’s house. The Pharisees criticize him for eating with tax collectors and sinners. Even the disciples of John the Baptist have questions and concerns because the disciples of Jesus do not fast.

While we cannot help but pay attention to the budding opposition Jesus faces, presented in our passages today as charges of blasphemy, criticism for eating with tax-collectors and sinners, and not practicing fasting as other religious folks did, our attention to the opposition should not keep us from seeing what else is happening.

A paralytic was brought to Jesus. Why? The ones who brought the paralytic had faith that Jesus could heal.

A tax collector got up and left his tax booth to follow Jesus. Why? He heard the voice of Jesus calling him to a new life.

That same tax collector invited Jesus into his home and invited his friends to come and meet Jesus. Why? Well, as Jesus put it, these folks knew they were sick, they knew they needed a physician, and they knew they could count on Jesus to make them well.

What about that question of fasting? Without denying the role fasting might play in our spiritual lives, Jesus clearly lets the disciples of John know there is something so wonderful and so life-giving present that to practice fasting while these miracles of new life abound would be like missing out on the festive celebration of a wedding. And guess who the guest of honor is? Jesus is the bridegroom. Jesus is the guest of honor. Jesus is Immanuel, our God whose presence is his present to us.

I hope you find joy in these passages today. They tell us of the Jesus who came so that we might have life, and have it abundantly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
“Jesus’ messianic authority, revealed in the calling of Matthew as well as the miracles reported in this text, opens up the twofold issue in which his ministry is already engaged. First, Jesus does not employ his authority for judgment, but rather for compassion and mission. Second, his compassionate use of his own authority issues in judgment nevertheless, for his mighty works demand response and therefore evoke a decision and produce a division. This twofold issue has been building throughout the narrative. The crowds who witnessed the healing of the paralytic ‘were filled with awe and glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings’ (9:8). This is paired with the Pharisees, who take offense at him, challenging his authority to eat with tax collectors and sinners.” (F. Dean Lueking, “The Lectionary Commentary: The Gospels”, p. 49)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Eleven: Monday, June 22th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 8:1-34

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“Preaching, teaching, and reaching”

“Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” The man Jesus touched was a leper. To gain a complete understanding of what it meant for Jesus to touch a leper requires an in-depth study of the holiness code in Leviticus, rules about what was clean and unclean, requirements and restrictions for those with infectious diseases. But one single passage from Leviticus helps us appreciate the deep significance tied to the action of Jesus.

“The person with such an infectious disease (like the disease of a leper) must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face, and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:45, 46)

This man, this man deemed unclean by the very laws of the Old Testament, recognizes that if he is willing Jesus can make him clean. Jesus said, “I am willing.” Jesus showed just how willing he was when reached out his hand and touched the man.

Already in our readings we have witnessed the power and authority Jesus has as he preaches and teaches. Matthew 8 now brings into full view the reach of Jesus, how Jesus literally touched the lives of human beings, many who had been pushed to the fringes of society, to the shadows, even to places of shame.

In reaching out, Jesus does two things. He goes to the margins. He goes to the edge. He goes to where the outcasts and the excluded live their lives. Jesus goes to where people are. He enters their world. But that is not all Jesus does. Jesus goes to these ones who have lived on the margins, on the fringes, as outcasts, on the edge of society, and he begins to draw them together into a community. The community Jesus is establishing is directly related to his announcement that the kingdom of heaven is near.

This community will be comprised of ones who represent the full reach of our Lord Jesus. Yes, in the kingdom of heaven people will come from east and west and north and south. Tax collectors and sinners will find a place. Lepers, the lame, the deaf, and the blind will no longer be excluded because of a physical condition. A centurion, a Roman soldier, becomes the model of faith.

The reach of Jesus extends to all those who have been cast out and pushed to the margins. I continue to find great hope in a phrase from our Disciple Bible Study, that Jesus came for the least, the last, and the lost. Jesus is willing to make the leper clean. Jesus is willing to make all clean.

Matthew wants us to know that the far-reaching love of Jesus will come at a cost. We will not bear that cost. For us the love of Jesus is a free gift. But there is a cost, and it is a cost Jesus bears all by himself. As chapter eight reveals the far-reaching impact of the life of Jesus, Matthew also serves notice that the life Jesus brings to all people is directly related to the death Jesus will die for all people. When Matthew quotes from Isaiah, he is bringing into play a passage fraught with meaning. “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.”

It would be worth your while to read the stories of healing, stories that describe the far-reaching love of Jesus found in Matthew eight in tandem with the chapter Matthew quotes from Isaiah, the 53rd chapter. Isaiah 53 is often called, “The Suffering Servant.”  There you will find the passage Matthew has used, “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.” There you will find these words. “By his wounds we are healed.”

Let us never lose sight of what a great gift we were given when Jesus reached out his hand and touched us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
“In the Law, the touch of the leper was contagious, but as there is such purity in Christ he absorbs all uncleanness and pollution, he does not contaminate himself by touching the leper, nor does he transgress the Law. For in assuming our flesh, he has granted us more than the touch of his hand, he has brought himself into one and the same body with us, that we should be the flesh of his flesh. He does not only stretch out his arm to us, but he comes down from heaven, even to the very depths; yet catches no stain thereby, but stays whole, clears all our dirt away, and pours upon us his own holiness. Now, while he could heal the leper by his word alone, he adds the contact of his hand, to show his feeling of compassion: no wonder, since he willed to put on our flesh in order that he might cleanse us from all sin. So the reaching out of his hand was a sign and token of his vast grace and goodness. Here is a thing which we pass over without much impression at an idle reading, but must certainly ponder, with much awe…that the Son of God, so far from abhorring contact with the leper, actually stretched out his hand to touch his uncleanness.” (John Calvin, “A Harmony of the Gospels”, volume I, 244)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Ten: Friday, June 19th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 7:1-29

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“Our Father gives good gifts”
The 7th chapter in Matthew touches on many subjects, calling us to…

    • Focus on the log in our own eye and not judge the speck in our neighbor’s.
    • Enter by the narrow gate.
    • Bear good fruit for the kingdom.

The chapter and sermon end with the sure and strong promise that those who hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice will be like those who build their house on a solid rock.

Tucked neatly into this chapter is an invitation to come before our Father in heaven with complete trust and confidence. Jesus tells us that God not only welcomes our prayers, our Heavenly Father indeed desires our prayers.

    • Ask and it will be given to you.
    • Seek and you will find.
    • Knock and the door will be opened to you.

Years ago I came across a book I found very helpful, “The Training of the Twelve,” by A.B. Bruce. In a chapter devoted to prayer, Bruce writes, “Prayer is a necessity of spiritual life, and all who earnestly try to pray soon feel the need of teaching how to do it.” (P. 52) Concerning The Lord’s Prayer, Bruce encourages us to see that special prayer as a foundation for all of our prayers. He uses a wonderful analogy saying The Lord’s Prayer is like the alphabet and our use of words…once we learn how to pray that prayer, the door opens for us to grow in our prayer life and build a deep and meaningful relationship with our Lord.

The words of Jesus inviting us to ask, to seek, and to knock are words that encourage us to come to God on a regular basis and pour our hearts out to God. The example of God not giving us a stone when we ask for bread or a serpent when we ask for a fish serve to let us know our Father will certainly hear our prayers and give us good gifts.

But late in the chapter on prayer, just when we think we might have mastered prayer and become mature in our prayer life, Bruce explores something of great mystery. Not all of our prayers are answered. Indeed, there are times, difficult and challenging times that test our faith and cause us to struggle mightily, times when we ask for bread and it seems our Father in heaven instead gives us a stone. Deep disappointment follows. Where is the Father who promised to give good gifts?

“It is implied in the very fact that Christ puts such cases as a stone for bread and a serpent for fish that God seems at least sometimes so to treat his children. The time came when the twelve thought they had been so treated.” Bruce is making reference to the great shock and stunning reversal that came when these disciples, taught by Jesus to pray for God’s kingdom to come, witnessed their Lord as he was betrayed, arrested, condemned, and crucified. The twelve asked for bread and for all they could understand God gave them a stone. “But they lived to see that God was true and good, and that they had deceived themselves, and that all which Christ had told them had been fulfilled. And all who wait on God ultimately make a similar discovery, and unite in testifying that ‘The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh him.’” (67-68)

The Father who would not abandon Jesus to the grave is our Father, and he will never abandon us. Never. No, not ever. He will never leave us and he will never forsake us. So ask, seek, and knock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
Ask…seek…knock. “Martin Luther said that in the monastery he was never really taught to ask in prayer. But the discovery of justification by grace, which puts a person’s feet on the ground, taught him afresh the marvelously uninhibited and normal way we may approach the living God—as askers, as human beings who are in need. Asking is what prayer is; this passage and the Lord’s Prayer together carve this gracious fact into the doctrinal conviction of the church. If this passage can succeed in making disciples prayerful, the Sermon on the Mount is on its way to fulfillment ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ Jesus does not leave his church with a great deal of equipment, but he knows that if he can leave her with the simple, open-ended gift of prayer, he has already met most of her needs.” (Bruner, The Christbook, p. 278)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Nine: Thursday, June 18th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 6:19-34

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“Seek first the kingdom ”

The kingdom of heaven holds a prominent place in the Gospel of Matthew. The general word “kingdom” occurs 54 times in Matthew, and there are 31 specific references to “The kingdom of heaven.” In Matthew…

  • The kingdom of heaven is near or at hand (Matthew 3:2 and 4:17)
  • The kingdom of heaven is present with the poor in spirit and those who are persecuted for righteousness. (Matthew 5:3, 5:10)
  • The kingdom of heaven is revealed in ways that capture our imagination through the parables Jesus tells in Matthew 13, including a mustard seed, hidden treasure, and a pearl of great price.
  • The kingdom of heaven is especially near for the little ones, the children, and for those who humble themselves and have the heart of a servant. (Matthew 18 and 19)
  • The kingdom has a place of honor prepared for those who remembered to reach out to the hungry and thirsty, to the stranger and the ones needing clothes, and who visited those who were sick or in prison. (Matthew 25:31-46)

The many references within the gospel make it difficult to nail down an exact definition of the kingdom, but in our reading today Jesus makes a powerful promise. Those who seek the kingdom of heaven first will find a wonderful benefit…God will take care of the other needs that so many people in this world spend their whole time chasing. Specific reference is made to food and clothing. We can only discover the truth of what Jesus says by trusting what Jesus says, and doing the very thing Jesus says, seeking the kingdom of heaven first.

One of the great joys I have discovered in my years as a pastor is that almost to a person, every one who has put this promise of Jesus into practice, every one who has made a wholehearted effort to seek God’s kingdom first has found that God does take care of our needs. In all honesty, sometimes God takes care of our needs by rearranging our priorities. Other times God takes care of our needs even as we learn to need a whole lot less than we might have initially thought we needed. But the truly amazing gift we are given when we seek first the kingdom of heaven is to discover an ever growing desire to experience the fullness of the kingdom of heaven, and the incredible blessing of developing a relationship with the one we call our King, Jesus Christ.

The college group we worked with years ago went by the name “Seekers”. Our guiding verse was Matthew 6:33, “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” At the end of our meetings we would form a circle and sing together a chorus that was simple and sweet. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you, Allelu, Alleluia.” Twenty-five years later those college students are now Elders, Deacons, Pastors, Missionaries, Sunday school teachers, and salt of the earth servants. They have discovered that the promise of Jesus is true. They have spent their days seeking first the kingdom of heaven. And true to his word, God has faithfully provided for their needs. In seeking first the kingdom, we discover God’s most precious treasure. And “where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.” Matthew 6:21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
“Jesus has not only warned us against the dangers of coveting…he follows that with his teaching on a clear vision as the secret to the healthy way. We need to see the world around us in the right way, in a healthy way…God’s will for us is not negative but positive: We will see the world in a generous and healthy way, not in a grasping and desperately clutching way. In the deepest sense, what Jesus does is to urge his listeners to see the world from God’s perspective so that we discover our own personal worthy from God himself; and not only that, but also the worth and meaning of every earthly treasure from God’s perspective. When this happens, we are set free from the various despairing results of the attachment of our lives to anything other than the true author of our existence—God himself.” (Earl Palmer, “The Enormous Exception”, p. 115)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Eight: Wednesday, June 17th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 6:1-18

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“Come near ”
A woman told a really sweet story. She was telling of when she was a little girl. Her momma was a powerful presence in her life, and there was no question that the Spirit of God was active and alive in her momma’s life. Her momma radiated the glory of the Lord in all she said and did. Because of that, her momma was both beloved and a little feared. When the Spirit of the Lord is active and alive in someone’s life, you learn to treat them with reverence, respect, and a little bit of fear. The Holy Other is present in this person’s life, and that is not to be taken lightly.

One morning this woman, who is now a respected pastor with many that treat her with a similar degree of reverence, opened her momma’s bedroom door uninvited. This woman, only a small child of three at the time, came without invitation into her momma’s bedroom. She found her momma on her knees praying. This woman, just a child at the time, had stepped into the sacred space of prayer. She was not invited. Her presence might well be an interruption. Her momma noticed that her sacred space was no longer hers alone. Someone else had entered that sacred space.

But her momma did not become upset. Her momma did not become angry. Her momma just raised her head, saw her baby girl peering in, saw her baby girl watching her pray, curious about the relationship the momma had with the one who is Holy, and Wholly Other. When the momma saw her baby girl staring at her, wide eyed, aware that she had entered into sacred space, the momma raised her hand toward her daughter, pointed her finger at her daughter, and then with that pointed finger she signaled for her daughter to come near, to come by her side, to kneel with her, to join her in prayer, and to join her in worship.

Today we enter sacred space. Jesus is telling us about his Father in heaven. Jesus wants us to know his Father in heaven is our Father in heaven. Jesus is not inviting us to rush into the presence of our Father filled with a sense that our actions will make a big impression and impress others. Instead, here in the Father’s presence we find Jesus. He wants us to join him. He does not shush us, condemn us, or send us away. Jesus does not shut the door. Jesus wants us to be with him, right by his side in the presence of our Father in heaven. But there is a right way to be with our Father in heaven. It is with a reverent heart…it is with a humble heart…it is with a sincere heart…it is with a grateful heart.

This morning as you read words from Jesus about our Father in heaven, imagine the Son of God seeing that we are watching…seeing that we are waiting…seeing that we long to be in the presence of our Father in the way that Jesus is in the presence of his Father. Imagine Jesus raising his hand toward us…toward you…pointing his finger at us…at you…and signaling for us…for you to come near, to come by his side, to kneel with him, and to join him in prayer…to join him in the presence of our Father in heaven. When you finish reading this morning, join Jesus as he leads us in prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
“Prayer is a particular kind of language. Not all language is of the same kind. The vocabulary of prayer is not the same as that for the application of a grant or a job…Prayer is the language of confession. By ‘confessional language’ I do not mean merely admitting that we have done wrong, but confession in the sense of expressing faith, the language that gives expression to our deepest convictions. This kind of language is not merely expressive, a venting of emotions, but represents a reality of human life…It is the insider language of the community of faith…Once we realize something of the nature of the language of prayer…we can confess our own need and lift up our intercessions and petitions to God without reservation. The Lord’s Prayer offers a model for doing so. Matthew’s text presents the opportunity for deepening our understanding of the nature of the language of prayer.” (M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew”, The New Interpreter’s Bible, p. 207)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Seven: Tuesday, June 16th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 5:17-48

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“Search me, O God ”
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.

Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with special words of blessing for those who are poor in spirit and those who mourn. When Jesus turns his attention to the commands of God about murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, vengeance, and loving others…even our enemies…especially our enemy, his words might well cause us to experience a deep poverty within our heart and to mourn at our inability to follow God’s word completely.

Knowing that as Paul wrote, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, perhaps we can approach these difficult words of Jesus as an expression of God’s glory.

    • Our God is not only opposed to murder, but to all things that take life from another human being, even the words we speak
    • Our God is not only opposed to adultery, but to all things that would demean and degrade another person by making them an object of our lust.

Reading these words about God’s Word by the one who is the Word of God made flesh, the Word of God who dwelt among us and revealed to us the glory of God, listening to Jesus speak about these holy commands provides us with a unique opportunity to get an inner look at God’s Word. Many of God’s commands are stated in terms of, “Thou shalt not….” Thus, many of the commands make known to us what God is against, what God is opposed to, what God tells us not to do. Commands often tell us what God is against. As Jesus speaks, his words help us understand what God is for. Can you hear Jesus telling you what you are to do? Can you hear Jesus telling you what you are to be? Can you? Can we?

The words Jesus speaks in today’s passage cause us to look within ourselves, to examine ourselves, to search ourselves, to search our hearts. There is a psalm that might prove helpful to read along with this section of the Sermon on the Mount. Psalm 139 begins with these words, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me…” What follows is a beautiful reflection on the intimacy we share with our God, the one who knit us together in our mother’s womb, who knows us inside and out. Assured that he is fearfully and wonderfully made, the psalmist ends with a heartfelt prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139: 24)

May we allow Jesus to search our hearts. May we allow Jesus to lead us in the way that is everlasting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
“’The Lord who accompanies us on our journey offers his own cheek to slaps and his shoulders to whips, to the increase of his glory’. (Hilary of Poitier) We are called here to love as God loves. This cannot be done out of our own resources. So this is no admonition to try harder—if it were, it would indeed be recipe for despair. It is a plan of action rooted in the promise to be made ‘children of your father in heaven’. (Matthew 4:45) The Sermon here and elsewhere is a portrait of the very heart of God, one who loves the unlovable, comes among us in Christ, suffers our worst, and rises to forgive us. Turn the cheek, give the cloak, go another mile, lend, love the enemy—because that is how God loves. If you want to follow this God, fleshed in Jesus, you will be adopted into a life in which you find yourself loving this way before you know what you are doing.” (Jason Byassee, “Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume I, p. 382)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Six: Monday, June 15th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 5:1-16

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“The Blessings of Jesus”
Our second week of reading in the Gospel of Matthew brings us to chapters 5-7, the words of Jesus known as, “The Sermon on the Mount.” We will encounter numerous passages that encourage, inspire, and challenge us on our journey of faith. The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes, the series of blessings that Jesus speaks in the opening verses of Matthew 5.

    • A blessing is certainly wonderful. It is the promise of blessing that propels Abraham to leave his country and his people and go to the land the Lord would show him.
    • Because a blessing is so wonderful, when that blessing is withheld or withdrawn, it can be traumatic. Esau’s heart is filled with anger and agony when he discovers his brother Jacob has stolen the blessing of their father Isaac. “When Esau heard that his father had blessed his brother, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to this father, ‘Bless me—me too, father!’” (Genesis 27:34)
    • Some blessings are conditional. Deuteronomy 27-29 is a lengthy section that spells out how Israel will be blessed, if… The blessing is conditional. They will be blessed, but only if they obey the commands of the Lord. Much of our life is based on blessings that are conditional, blessings we earn or work to attain.

The Beatitudes stand apart from other blessings we find in the bible, and so many of the blessings we find in life. In the Beatitudes Jesus does more than promise blessing. Jesus describes a blessing that is present at this very moment. The blessing of Jesus is not a blessing that is withheld or withdrawn. The blessing of Jesus is graciously given. Instead of the trauma that caused such bitterness in the heart of Esau, those who receive the blessing of Jesus find comfort and peace in their moment of need. The blessing of Jesus is not conditional, something we work for, earn, or deserve.

When you read the Beatitudes today, look for ways the blessing of Jesus brings comfort. Look for ways the blessing of Jesus creates within his followers a hunger and thirst for the things that are near and dear to the heart of God. Look for ways the blessing of Jesus prepares his followers to stand firm in the face of persecution and the pressures of this world.

Disciples who receive the blessing of their Lord Jesus become the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

“Let your light shine before all people, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
“Let me put this another way. The only way the Beatitudes of Jesus make sense is if Jesus Christ himself, the one who speaks them, is strong enough to make them really true. We are able to endure persecution and actually to believe we are on the right path if our companion in the middle of that persecution is the living Lord. These Beatitudes are the words of authority; they boldly challenge every way of looking at life that people ordinarily hold.” (Earl Palmer, “The Enormous Exception”, 25.)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Five: Friday, June 12th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 4:12-25

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“The people living in darkness”
People living in darkness…that phrase, drawn from the prophet Isaiah, could refer to any people at any time and in any place. In the original context of Isaiah it probably had to do with the terrible ordeal of being attacked and defeated by the Assyrian empire, an attack and defeat that led to exile and loss of sovereignty, not to mention the suffering and devastation associated with war.

    • Following on the heels of the temptation Jesus faced in the desert, we learn that John the Baptist has been put in prison. His imprisonment will not end well.
    • Zebulun and Naphtali were two northern tribes of Israel who were crushed by the Assyrians. They never regained their former glory. In some ways they became forgotten tribes.
    • When Jesus begins preaching and teaching, he encounters people with diseases, with illnesses, ones suffering severe pain, demon-possessed, those having seizures, and ones who were paralyzed.

People living in darkness…darkness is a miserable aspect of our human condition. Darkness is something we all experience. Darkness for Israel, and darkness for us today, includes large geo-political issues, oppressive regimes, famine, disease, pandemics, injustices and inequalities, and just plain human suffering, things like loneliness and despair.

As human beings we are well acquainted with darkness. Our reading today brings us the good news that the people living in darkness have seen a great light. A light has dawned. That light is Jesus Christ, God’s Beloved Son. Already we have discovered much about Jesus.

    • He is named Jesus because he will save us from our sins
    • He is called Immanuel because he is God with us.
    • He was baptized in the same waters as everyone else. He really is one of us.
    • He stood firm against the devil who wanted to drive a wedge between Jesus and his Father in heaven.

Matthew draws on just the opening verses of the prophet’s promises in Isaiah 9, but certainly we are meant to know Jesus is the fulfillment of the whole promise.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned…

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders.

He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:2-7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
“Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” The word I have rendered ‘here comes,’ has exercised many interpreters. Does it mean the kingdom is near, or does it mean the kingdom is present? Does it suggest a future or a present kingdom? It means both: it is on its ways, it is just about to break in, in fact it is breaking in, in some ways, as Jesus’ very words are spoken—‘here comes!’ The translation ‘here comes’ keeps the kingdom from being a static object either in heaven (is near) or on earth (is here); it protects the kingdom from the desecration of being so present it can be taken for granted and from the irrelevance of being so future it doesn’t matter… ‘Here comes the kingdom’ means the kingdom is breaking in right now through Jesus’ person and Word like a great landslide or like lightning from heaven. The kingdom is vital, alive, moving, and breaking in.” (Dale Bruner, “The Christbook”, p. 123.)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Four: Thursday, June 11th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 4:1-11

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“What is in your heart?
The contrast between the ending of Matthew’s third chapter and the beginning of the fourth is jarring. From the rapturous revelation that accompanies the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, the descending dove and the voice affirming that Jesus is God’s Beloved Son we are immediately thrust into a desert scene where the Beloved Son of God is tempted by none other than the devil.

Confronted by the devil, the way Jesus responds serves as both comparison and contrast to the nation of Israel during their time of testing as they wandered in the wilderness.

    • Israel spent 40 years in the desert…Jesus spent 40 days.
    • Bread was given as a daily reminder of God’s provision for Israel…Jesus was offered bread to satisfy the hunger that gnawed at his stomach following forty days without food.
    • The desert was a place of testing for Israel…Jesus was tested when the devil came at him with the sole purpose of tempting the Son of God.
    • The desert provided the people of Israel the perfect opportunity to show what was in their heart…the desert provide the Son of God the perfect opportunity to show what was in his heart.

The way Jesus answers the temptations of the devil goes a long way to helping us connect his experience in the desert with the forty years spent by his ancestors as they wandered in the wilderness. Each time Jesus is tempted, he uses the lessons God was trying to teach Israel in their wilderness wanderings to shut down the devil.

    • Turn stones to bread. “It is written, ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Deuteronomy 8:3, words designed to help Israel learn that as God provided the daily bread of manna, so God’s word is the daily bread that sustains the people on their journey of faith)
    • Throw yourself down from the highest place of the temple. “It is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Deuteronomy 6:16, words that called Israel to account for all the times they tested God in the wilderness)
    • Bow down and worship me. “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Deuteronomy 6:13, one of numerous passages warning Israel that they would face the constant temptation of putting their faith and trust in idols, in other gods, in false gods)

While it is tempting for us to read the seemingly endless chapters describing the wanderings in the wilderness and come away thinking that was nothing but an aimless journey, God makes clear in Deuteronomy 8 that the sojourn in the desert had an aim, an aim that was clear cut and compelling. The journey was not aimless, not in any way, shape, or form. “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart…” (Deuteronomy 8:2) By the time Jesus says, “Away from me, Satan!” it is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt what is in the heart of God’s Beloved Son. The heart of Jesus is filled with an undying commitment and steadfast devotion to his Father in heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
“The basic, underlying temptation that Jesus shared with us is the temptation to treat God as less than God. We may not be tempted to turn stones into bread, but we are constantly tempted to mistrust God’s readiness to empower us to face our trials. None of us is likely to put God to the test by leaping from a cliff, but we are frequently tempted to question God’s helpfulness when things go awry…Pagan idolatry is no more a temptation for us than it was for Jesus, but compromise with the ways of the world is a continuing seduction. It is indeed difficult for us to worship and serve God only. We should be continually grateful that we have a great high priest who, tempted as we are, was able to resist all such temptations by laying hold of Scripture and firmly acknowledging that only God is God.” (Hare, p. 25, 26)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Three: Wednesday, June 10th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 3:1-17

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“Open for business”

John the Baptist and Jesus were contemporaries. The biblical narrative lay dormant for hundreds of years. The Apocrypha chronicles activities of God, but the completion of the canon of the Old Testament is followed by centuries of silence. And then not one charismatic figure, but two appear on the scene at the same time. Jesus appears first in the Gospel of Matthew, the infant born in Bethlehem. However, as an adult, Jesus does not come on the scene until after John the Baptist. This does not mean Jesus is less than John the Baptist.

The Christian tradition orders the books of the Old Testament to highlight the person of John the Baptist. The words of the prophet Malachi, strategically placed at the end of the Old Testament, are like a deep rumble of hope sustaining Israel through the centuries of silence with words of promise:

    • “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come…” Malachi 3:1
    • The final verse of the Old Testament sets the stage for the next act, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers….” Malachi 4:6

Bursting on the desert scene John the Baptist came preaching an urgent message of repentance. The kingdom of heaven has drawn near. All of the gospel writers identify John the Baptist as the “voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord.’” (Isaiah 40:3)  The Baptist’s preaching drew great crowds, multitudes who confessed their sins and received baptism. In Matthew chapter three John the Baptist begins his ministry first. In Matthew chapter three John the Baptist draws great crowds. But in Matthew, as in Mark and Luke and John, the Baptist is clear about one thing. “I baptize you with water for repentance. After me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

As adults, John the Baptist came first. In a sense, Jesus came last. But as is so often the case, God saved the best for last.

“As soon as Jesus was baptized…heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”

Noah had his rainbow.
Abraham had a night sky filled with thousands of stars.
Moses had a pillar of fire to guide him in the desert.

Not a one of those signs compared to what God did when Jesus was baptized.

    • The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove.
    • The divine voice said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
    • Heaven itself was ripped wide open.

It was almost like God was making a bold announcement that was good news of great joy for all the people. “My Son Jesus is here. We are open for business.”

From Hebrews 1:1 “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…”

Prayer: Lord Jesus, speak to us as we read these holy words about your life on earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commentary:
The Holy Spirit descending on Jesus at his baptism fulfilled messianic texts such as Isaiah 11:2, And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, and Isaiah 42:1, Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations. “While for Matthew Jesus was already Messiah at his conception, here at the Jordan…he receives divine empowerment through the visible conferral of the Holy Spirit. By this power he will be able to attack Satan’s forces and thereby exhibit the proximity of the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 12:28) The words of the heavenly voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased,’ confirm the application to Jesus of the prophecy of Isaiah 42:1: ‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my Beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased.’” (Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew, pgs. 21, 22)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Two: Tuesday, June 9th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 2:1-23

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

“O Come Let Us Adore Him”
The importance of the Old Testament in this first book of the New Testament is almost impossible to overemphasize. As we read together you will be encouraged either to remember some of the stories that serve as the foundation of our faith, or perhaps to discover these rich episodes in the history of Israel for your very first time.

The second chapter of Matthew provides just such an opportunity.

    • Bethlehem is where another king made his appearance. Commanded by God to find a replacement for the failed King Saul, the prophet Samuel followed the instructions of God and made his way to Bethlehem. God said, “I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” I Samuel 16 recounts the anointing of David, who was the youngest of Jesse’s sons, not even deemed worthy to attend this big event. Through the call of David we learn the beautiful and blessed lesson that although, “Humans look at the outward appearance, the Lord looks at the heart.”
    • Egypt was the setting of God’s great act of deliverance for Israel. But before Egypt was a place of oppression, Egypt was a place of salvation. The dreamer named Joseph rose through God’s providence to a powerful position in Egypt and thus was able to rescue his family in their time of crisis. It was only when another ruler arose who did not know Joseph that trouble set in. Egypt became a place where the ruthless acts of Pharaoh caused life to be bitter for the people of God. While all these details can be found by exploring the story of Joseph and his brothers beginning in Genesis 37 and continuing right into Exodus, Matthew’s reference from the Old Testament, “Out of Egypt I called my son,” comes from Hosea. If this is your first foray into Hosea, let me just warn you to buckle up.  And yet don’t let that warning keep you from reading to the later parts of Hosea. Treated poorly through countless acts of unfaithfulness, God nevertheless pours out his heart to his children, coming down firmly on the side of grace. “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.” (Hosea 11:8)
    • Rachel weeping for her children is a double-edged sword that both cuts and heals. During the times before and during the exile to Babylon, Israel experienced a devastating upheaval. When the prophet Jeremiah referenced Rachel weeping for her children he was acknowledging the sad truth that innocent children often bear the brunt of suffering. Herod’s heartless murder of the innocents, following the cruel precedent set by Pharaoh way back in Exodus, is yet another example of how sin stains our world. But in Jeremiah, Rachel’s weeping is comforted as God points to a return from exile and the restoration of hope. (Jeremiah 31)

I think it goes without saying that Matthew has a lot to say in the second chapter of his gospel. Lest we become disheartened because some of these details escape our attention, do not be discouraged. The wise men that came from the East knew none of this information, and yet it did not keep them from doing the one thing God desires of everyone who meets his beloved Son. They bowed down in worship. Here we are in June, and yet it is never out of season to sing the familiar carol, “O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Commentary:

According to Martin Luther “The wise men here teach us the true faith. After they heard the sermon and the word of the prophet they were not slow to believe, in spite of obstacles and difficulties. First they came to Jerusalem, the capitol, and did not find him, the star also disappearing. (It would have been easy for them to say) Alas, we have traveled so far in vain, the star has misled us, it was a phantom…Yet when the wise men had overcome their temptation (to doubt and give up) they were born again by the great joy and took no offense at Christ…For although they enter a lowly hut and find a poor young wife with a poor little child, and find less of royal appearance than the homes of their own servants, they are not led astray. But in a great, strong, living faith they…treat the child as a king.” (Sermons of Martin Luther, Volumes 1-2, “Epiphany, p. 363)

BIBLE STUDY, Matthew 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day One: Monday, June 8th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 1:1-25

Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:

IMMANUEL
What an introduction! The first verse of the first book of the New Testament declares that Jesus is the Christ, that Jesus is the son of David, and that Jesus is the son of Abraham.

    • Christ identifies Jesus as the Anointed One, the Expected One.
    • Son of David identifies Jesus with the golden age of Israel’s kingdom and the promise that one day a new king would arrive who was in the line and lineage of David.
    • Son of Abraham identifies Jesus with all the promises given through the father of our faith. Through Abraham God had promised that all peoples on earth would be blessed.

The genealogy that follows clearly connects Jesus to his ancestors David and Abraham.  From Abraham and Sarah, old in age and without offspring until their child of laughter named Isaac was born, the genealogy rises toward the great king David. But from David the genealogy begins a steep descent that ends in deep despair and dismay as the people are carried to their bitter exile in Babylon. From the exile the genealogy begins another ascent, the one that culminates in the coming of the Christ child.

But this is not only the story of a king from the line of David. Abraham reminds us of the far-reaching intentions of God to bless the whole earth, to bless all the peoples of the earth. If we race through the genealogy we might miss the names of the women whose presence boldly hints at the expansiveness of God’s grace. You might find great benefit in reviewing the stories of the women who are only mentioned by name.

    • Tamar: Genesis 38
    • Rahab: Joshua 2
    • Ruth: This special woman merits a whole book in the Bible, found right after Judges in the Old Testament
    • The wife of Uriah (Bathsheba): II Samuel 11

Matthew has carefully included ones who others might have chosen to exclude. Knowing that these women have a place in the genealogy of Jesus serves to put us on notice that Jesus will enter a world that is not neatly tied together like a fairy tale. The genealogy of Jesus is a powerful demonstration that God is able to work with real human lives in bringing a real human birth to one who will be a real Savior for this very real world. Knowing the challenging situations faced by the women in the genealogy prepares us to be with Joseph and Mary in their uncomfortable, and indeed scandalous predicament.

The one born out of this scandalous predicament will save his people from their sins. Indeed, the one born out of this scandalous situation will be God himself, God incarnate. You shall call him Immanuel, which means, “God is with us.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


Commentary:

Regarding Joseph and the appearance of
the angel, Aaron Klink writes, “The message part of this
text brings is that unexpected things, things outside of
convention can often be wonderful signs that God is at
work. Amid all our less-than-picture-perfect Christmases,
the Christmas trees that are not quite as perfect as we
want them to be, the lives that are not as perfect as we
want them to be, God does something new. Somehow
Joseph has to trust this strange news: That this child is
from the Holy Spirit; that he already has a name, Jesus;
and that he will save people from their sins…as Mary
and Joseph journeyed to this first Christmas, they did
not know where God would take them; all they knew
was that something wonderful had been promised and
that they had been beckoned to follow. So too the text
calls us to rise and follow God’s call, not knowing
where the journey will take us, or the path that God has
set us on.” (Aaron Klink, Feasting on the Word, Year A,
Volume 1, pgs. 94 and 96)

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 84

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 84, June 5, 2020
“Sparkle and Shine”

Have you ever considered that your life might shine? The Apostle Paul discovered that truth in a beautiful and personal way as he came to love the church at Philippi. From the warm and tender greeting where he assures the Philippians that he “has them in his heart” to the gratitude he expresses for their undying concern for him when not even one other church “shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except” his beloved friends, those saints at Philippi had been a beacon of hope and encouragement to Paul. Not one to leave things to doubt, Paul affirms the impact of their faithful witness for Christ with soaring praise, “You shine like stars in the universe…” (Philippians 2:15)

Make no mistake, the Philippians do not shine with a light that is their own. The light that shines in their lives is the light of Christ. Paul does not speak of the impact the shining Philippians have made until he has lifted up Jesus Christ. It is only after Paul has called his faithful brothers and sisters to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus…it is only after the humility of Christ, “who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped”…it is only after the humility of Christ has been lifted up…It is only after the self-giving of Christ, “Who emptied himself by becoming a servant, who emptied himself by giving his life on the cross”, it is only after the self-giving of Christ has been laid out as the ultimate sacrifice…it is only after Jesus has been praised as the name that is above all names, it is only after the Philippians have adopted the same attitude as Christ Jesus that Paul is able to tell the beloved saints in Philippi that their lives shine like stars in the universe.

Today’s devotional is the last in this series. I close these daily reflections in the hopes that you and I will enter back into and engage with our world motivated by a commitment and a desire to shine like stars in the universe. The chaos and confusion left behind by the Coronavirus is immense. The loss has been physical, financial, spiritual, mental, and social. Even as the world focused on a pandemic, the glaring realities of racial injustice and inequality have been brought to light once again.

Into this world, at this time, in this place, with these challenges, a letter written to a fledgling church nearly 2,000 years ago somehow manages to speak to us today like it is breaking news. Have the same attitude as Christ. With that attitude shine like stars in the universe.

At a time in my life when I was struggling to discover meaning and purpose, at a time filled with personal doubts, at a time when there was much confusion in the societal events of the day, at a time when I was hoping and praying that my life might make some positive impact on this crazy world in which we live, I stumbled on a book at a rummage sale that led me to explore an old knight’s tale and finally found me plopped down on a couch as I watched a movie based on the Lerner and Loewe’s musical “Camelot.”

Right at the end of the movie, King Arthur is preparing to go to his final battle. His beloved dream of Camelot has crumbled. The Round Table lies broken and shattered by betrayal and deceit. His kingdom is in tatters. The future seems bleak. Strapping on his sword for what he knows will be the last time, the king hears a rustling sound near his tent.

Arthur calls out,

“Who goes there?”

With hesitation a young boy steps from the shadows.

“Who are you?” the king demands

In a small and timid voice the boy says, “Tom, my Lord.”

“And where do you come from?”

“From Warwick, my Lord.”

Eyeing him warily the king probes, “Why are you here?”

Tom straightens up a bit and says, “I have come to fight for the king.”

Not only does that answer surprise the king, you can see him melt just a little.

“Fight for the king?”

“Yes, my Lord, I want to be a Knight of the Round Table.”

Arthur asks, “And how did you decide on this extinct profession?”

What Tom says next floors the king. “From the stories people tell.”

“From the stories people tell?”

“Yes, my Lord, from the stories people tell. Might for right, right for right, and a Round Table for all.”

The cloud that hung so darkly over the king seems to disappear, just for a moment, just for one brief shining moment. Arthur calls the boy over to his side. Even though Arthur knows the battle he enters that day will end in defeat, he now sees that the story might live on. Speaking gently but urgently to the boy, King Arthur says to young Tom of Warwick,

“Listen to me, Tom, and do exactly what I, the king command you.”

Expecting to be sent to the front lines, Tom stands at attention, awaiting his orders. But King Arthur says, “I want you to go home, to grow up, and to grow old.” A look of disappointment fills Tom’s face as the king says these words. Tom is ready for battle. Instead, the king says he wants Tom to go home and tell everyone that once there was a spot. Slowly Tom begins to understand how important it is to tell the story. His disappointment in not going to battle is transformed and he prepares to run and tell the story.

Before he does, the king has him kneel down. King Arthur places his trusted sword on the shoulder of the young boy and says, “I knight you Sir Tom of Warwick.” When Sir Tom of Warwick rises the king sends him off to fulfill his important task. The boy runs, literally carrying the hopes and the dreams of Camelot and the king with him. Arthur watches him go with the sweetest look of wonder and amazement. He shouts after him, “Run, my boy, run.”

Right about then Arthur’s oldest and dearest friend, King Pellinore, stumbles onto the scene. Pelly sees the boy running. Pelly hears Arthur shouting. Confused by this strange series of events, Pelly blurts out, “Arthur, who was that boy?”

King Arthur, his face beaming with hope, shouts triumphantly, “One of what we all are Pelly, less than a drop in the great blue motion of the sunlit sea. But it seems, Pelly, some of the drops sparkle. Some of the drops do sparkle.” The king shouts one final time, “Run, my boy. Run.”

Years ago, a follower of Jesus named Paul wrote to some dear friends, some ordinary, everyday Christians living in a Roman city named Philippi. He told them what a difference they had made in his life. He told them how he loved and longed for them. And he told them that with Christ in their lives they shined. He told them their lives sparkled. I believe that was true in Philippi. But I don’t believe that was only true in Philippi. I believe that the light of Christ is meant to shine in our lives. I believe our lives are meant to sparkle. And I believe that is exactly what Christ does in each of our lives. Children of God, may we live in such a way that the light and the love of Jesus Christ shines in our lives. May we live in such a way that our lives sparkle.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

 

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 83

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 83, June 4, 2020
“A tunnel of love”

Emerging from the complete shut-down instituted during the Coronavirus Crisis the phrase “The light at the end of the tunnel” has been used. There is still a great need for taking the virus seriously and there is no guarantee the virus will not make a dreaded return, but it has begun to feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel…and we are moving toward that light.

I have been in tunnels before. Downtown Houston has a complete system of tunnels connecting the businesses and buildings through numerous underground passageways. One of my favorite tunnels cuts through a mountain on the way to Yosemite, that incomparable National Park in the mountains of California. Breaking free from the darkness of the tunnel you are greeted with an incredible view of the Yosemite Valley, waterfalls cascading, mountain peaks rising in breathtaking formations, and a sparkling stream winding its way through the vast green meadow. Each one of us has undoubtedly experienced memorable tunnels on our journey of life.

My favorite tunnel is not majestic, not particularly impressive, and not even permanent. My favorite tunnel is portable. Perhaps this particular tunnel is my favorite because of the memories attached to it. You see, my favorite tunnel is the tunnel that is formed after a children’s or youth sporting event. Out on a field set apart for soccer, football, baseball or softball, in a gymnasium where basketballs bounce and volleyballs are spiked, when the sporting event comes to a conclusion, the faithful fans form a tunnel. The tunnel is usually made up of parents and grandparents, younger siblings, some dedicated faculty who drop in to cheer on their students, and some old empty-nesters like me who just love celebrating the gift that God has given us in our children and youth. All the spectators line up in two lines facing each other and raise their hands to meet in the middle, forming a human tunnel.

In the same way that the cheering crowd gathers in two lines at the end of a sporting event, today I am inviting you to join me in forming a tunnel. This is a tunnel we are forming to give thanks to God that we have made it this far in our journey through a pandemic that has swept over our state, nation, and the entire world, taking many lives, causing great sickness to others, and leaving our economy and jobs in a state of crisis.

Tomorrow marks the completion of twelve weeks of daily devotionals. The purpose of the devotionals was to help us stay connected in a time of isolation. Tomorrow will be the final daily devotional. Next Monday we will continue our journey in a different format, with daily readings and thoughts from the Gospel of Matthew. To mark tomorrow’s completion of the daily devotionals, we are forming a tunnel to reflect on how God has guided us and provided for us during these days of isolation.

Our tunnel begins forming as the first-responders pair off facing one another.

  • Doctors and nurses and hospital employees, our police officers, members of fire departments, emergency responders all reach toward one another with arms stretched out and hands raised up.
  • All those essential workers who have been working in our stores and grocery markets, driving trucks or delivering mail and packages, sweeping floors and cleaning counters and changing sheets in our hospitals, they need to join the tunnel.
  • Now everyone who has made a mask, get in line.
  • Did you write a note? Make a phone call? Send an email? Stand outside a window and wave to someone in a care facility? Help with grocery shopping?
  • Did you honk your horn and holler congratulations as you passed yard signs that signified this house was home to a member of the Class of 2020?
  • Did you make or bake something just to brighten the day for a friend?
  • Did you say a prayer? Did you shed a tear? Did you make time to listen to someone who just needed a friend?
  • Did you run with Maud? Did your heart cry out for justice when George Floyd couldn’t breathe?
  • When you saw some of the protests break out in violence and the looting and fires that followed, did you turn to the words of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Did you pray with St. Francis, “Make me an instrument of your peace?”

We are not done with the Coronavirus Crisis, but it does seem there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As recent events have shown, there will undoubtedly be more crises we face as we seek to live faithfully in this world. Facing challenges is part of living. I hope this Coronavirus Crisis has proven to us yet again that our strength comes from forming a tunnel, our strength comes from reaching across and joining hands, our strength comes from working together in unity and harmony, and our strength comes from working together for peace and justice.

Today I am telling you about my tunnel. Today I am inviting you to join my tunnel. But today I hope you will think about your tunnel. Who have you seen reaching out? Who have you seen joining hands? Who have you seen serving and striving to make a difference in a time of darkness?

Forming a tunnel can be a powerful experience, one that both humbles your heart and fills that same heart with hope. All of a sudden I look at the tunnel in my mind and I see Martin Luther King, Jr. reaching to grab hold of the hand belonging to Mother Teresa. Now I see a Pope connecting with a Protestant pastor. Now I see someone who is serving food at a shelter offering a hand of friendship to one who came because they were hungry or thirsty, because they needed clothes, or they were a stranger and needed a welcome. Oh my, now I see Mr. Rodgers extending his gentle hand to touch a Teddy Bear’s paw. When hands like that join you realize the light is not only at the end of the tunnel. The light shines in the tunnel. The light shines in the darkness.

Tomorrow will bring the end to twelve weeks of daily devotionals. It has been such a privilege to share these reflections with you. In anticipation of the end of the devotionals, and in celebration of the tremendous blessing it has been to share this journey together, today a tunnel is forming in my mind. I see you. I see your face. I see your heart. I see a person filled with kindness and compassion. I see a person committed to working for a world where God’s light and God’s love finds a home in each and every person. I see a person who is my friend. I see a person who is my brother and my sister. Standing face to face with you, my dear friend, my arms are stretched out and my hands are raised up. Meet my hands in the middle. Form a tunnel. And as we form a tunnel together, let us give thanks that not only is there a light at the end of the tunnel, that light is with us right in the middle of the tunnel, shining and bringing hope even during the darkest of days.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” (Matthew 4:16)

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

 

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 82

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 82, June 3, 2020
“The truth shall set you free”

The Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina was founded over 100 years ago as a place set apart for spiritual rest, renewal, and recreation. I learned this at an introductory seminar I attended when I visited Montreat in the summer of 2010. The introductory seminar recounted the development of the camp. Milestones along the way included the establishment of a college and the organization of a Presbyterian Church. Billy Graham lived in Montreat. His presence drew visits from presidents and various dignitaries. When Billy Graham’s wife Ruth died, her funeral was held at Montreat’s Anderson Auditorium.

I was taking this all in when something was mentioned that grabbed my attention. Assembly Inn is the majestic centerpiece of Montreat, where many conference participants are housed. All the conference meals are served at Assembly Inn. It is the hub of activity for Montreat. It turns out something else took place at Assembly Inn which is a painful reminder of a dark time in our history as a nation.

In 1942, Assembly Inn was used to house 290 Japanese and Germans who were interred during World War II. I was surprised to learn this information for several reasons. I was surprised simply that Assembly Inn’s history included being used as a detainment facility. I also found myself surprised that Montreat made no effort to hide that fact. It was included in the presentation. Later, when I looked up the history of the camp on the website, the information was included there as well.

Along with being surprised, I found myself being grateful. I was grateful that Montreat made no effort to sweep that chapter of history under the rug. Nor did they attempt to justify what took place in those days as something that could be explained because of the times we were living in and the fear that gripped our nation. No, they simply acknowledged a painful chapter in the history of both a Presbyterian conference center and a nation.

Jesus says in the Gospel of John that we shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free. Every one of our lives has painful chapters. There are times we do not live up to the standards we set for ourselves, and we never live up to the standards of the God who is known for his holiness. We disappoint God. We disappoint others. And we disappoint ourselves

Too often we use huge brooms of denial and justification to sweep our sin and shortcomings under the rug. That is no way to be set free. Jesus calls us to acknowledge our sin, to bring it to the light, and to let the truth of the gospel set us free.

Montreat is a beautiful place. I loved the hikes. I loved the streams and waterfalls. I loved the endless mountain ranges and the canopy of trees. I loved the beautiful Lake Susan in the middle of the camp. But most of all, I loved being reminded that we do not have to run from our past or cover it up. When we acknowledge the truth, the truth that we are broken people in a broken world, our God has an amazing way of setting us free. That is the joy of the new creation that comes through Jesus Christ. That is the joy of God’s redeeming love.

The youth of Dunn’s Corners Church have attended summer camp at Montreat many times. I do not know if our youth are aware of how that Presbyterian Conference Center has modeled acknowledging the truth and allowing the truth to do the miraculous work of setting people free from a painful past. I do know this. Our youth returned from summer camp several years ago and went to work on organizing school assemblies with our youth leader Michael Walton. The rallies are called “Speak out to Reach Out.” The rallies affirm the value of each person, the dignity of each human life. To students who live in a world that can rip apart your self-esteem and strip away your dignity, the rallies brought a message of hope. The rallies brought a message of hope for all teens, of all colors and cultures and backgrounds. The truth was at work setting people free. Now our youth have come together with committed adults in our church to plan an outreach to Ghana. Bridging a gulf that spans more than just a mighty ocean, God is at work uniting the lives of people from different nations and different ethnic groups and different cultural norms. The truth is at work setting people free. The truth is at work bringing people together.

Recent events have exposed difficult and painful realities about who we are as a nation. Thinking of how our friends at Montreat acknowledged the truth of their role as a place of internment in WWII, I am asking myself what truth do I need to acknowledge? What truth do I need to own? What truth needs to set me free to live into the fullness of life that Jesus promised. In these dark and difficult days, Jesus holds out a promise to us. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

 

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 81

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 81, June 2, 2020
“Pray for righteousness…pray for peace”

The Beatitudes are the beautiful blessings Jesus bestows at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Surprisingly, his words of blessing point to a tension that his followers must recognize and a tension with which his followers must wrestle. The tension exists between the blessing of being ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness and the blessing of being ones who are peacemakers. The hunger and thirst for righteousness is on full display as large gatherings of people are protesting the shocking death of George Floyd, which is yet another sign and symbol of racial injustice. The call for peacemakers is also being voiced as many of these protests, designed to be peaceful, have erupted in acts of violence and looting leaving behind personal injury, destruction of property, broken windows and raging fires.

My heart is heavy. My heart is broken. My heart is concerned. In all honesty, my heart is fearful. My heart needs healing. The heart of our nation needs healing.

Feeling at a loss for what I can do during these times of great tension, I am offering something small. I am offering something small with the belief it might be helpful. I am offering a chance to identify the tension we live with, the tension found in the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. At noon today and then again at 6 pm today, Tuesday, June 2nd, in the midst of a time of great tension in our nation, I am going to read aloud the Beatitudes as found in Matthew 5:3-12. I am inviting you to join me at either noon or 6 pm to read aloud the Beatitudes. In the Beatitudes we will come face to face with the tension that exists for those who follow Jesus.

    • We will hear Jesus say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
    • We will hear Jesus say, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
    • Today at noon and again at 6 pm, I am also going to read the prayer of St. Francis, in which this simple man of faith prayed, “Make me an instrument of your peace…”
    • In closing I will say the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer that asks for God’s kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done.

Because I know the tension in our nation is felt in each and every one of your hearts, I am also going to be at a table in our church parking lot for an hour before each of the scheduled times of reading (11 am till noon, and 5 pm until 6 pm).You can come by the table and I will hand you a paper with the Beatitudes and the Prayer of St. Francis. If you come by, I would love to say a prayer with you. If you want to come at noon or at 6 pm we can read the prayers together. Whether at home or in person, I am hoping that you will join me at noon or at 6 pm today. If you do want to join in the prayer, I am including the Beatitudes and the Prayer of St. Francis. (Scroll down to see both prayers)

My heart is broken during this time of such great tension. And yet my heart is hopeful knowing that as we bow our heads together in prayers for righteousness and in prayers for peace, we are also committing ourselves to both of these great causes which mean so much to our blessed Lord.

THE BEATITUDES
Matthew 5:3-12 New International Version (NIV)

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

THE PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

 

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 80

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 80, June 1, 2020
“Row to the end”

On December 2, 1940 Winston Churchill received a letter from Max Aitken, or as he was known by his official title, “Lord Beaverbrook.” A trusted ally of Churchill’s, Lord Beaverbrook had been enlisted to serve as the Minister of Aircraft Production, a critical role as Britain desperately needed to protect their skies. Beaverbrook served admirably, but occasionally he would get tired of the struggle of his office, and he would grow especially tired of his critics. Churchill received a letter from Lord Beaverbrook on December 2, 1940 in which Beaverbrook resigned, saying, “I am not now the man for the job. I will not get the necessary support.” Churchill responded, “There is no question of me accepting your resignation. As I told you, you are in the galleys and will have to row to the end.” (From Erik Larson’s new book, “The Splendid and the Vile,” p. 302)

I read these words of Churchill on Saturday, just two days ago. It was a splendid New England afternoon, finally warm enough to sit outside, blessed with a breeze that was gentle not blustery, birds singing and the sun shining. It was just about the perfect time for me to call up Mr. Coronavirus and tell him I was resigning. I’m done with this. You blew into town three months ago and you have had your way with us, but enough is enough. I’m done with you and I want to have life back the way I like it, normal, untroubled by you and your pesky pandemic.

Darn you Winston Churchill! You had to interrupt my fine resignation speech and state the reality that needed to be stated. Despite my wishes to resign and be done with Mr. Coronavirus, I am in the galleys and I am going to have to row to the end. Although I can be as self-centered as the next person and think something as meaningful as this quote from the great statesman is just for me, I’m pretty sure the message is for you as well. In fact, the message is for all of us. We are in this and we are going to have to row to the end.

When Julie was doing Interfaith work in Houston, her friends in the Jewish community introduced her to Rabbi Tarfun, who said, “You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Julie started working at Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston in the spring of 2001. At that time rowing in the galleys involved things like resettling refugees from Sudan, Liberia, and Afghanistan. At that time rowing in the galleys led to bringing different faith groups together and working to foster understanding and cooperation instead of conflict and division. At that time rowing in the galleys resulted in sponsoring a Day of Service for the whole city of Houston, restoring an African American cemetery that had become overgrown with weeds and numerous other endeavors to help the hurting. At that time rowing in the galleys included delivering Meals on Wheels to 30,000 people.

Rabbi Tarfun lived in the years after the fall of the Second Temple, which was destroyed in 70 CE. The fall of the temple was a devastating time for the Jewish people. Churchill served during the darkest days of World War II. Not long after Julie was introduced to the quote from Rabbi Tarfun planes struck the World Trade Towers and other targets. Our nation was called on to respond to the horrors of a terror attack.

Saturday afternoon, when I thought I had had just about enough with Mr. Coronavirus and I was composing my resignation letter, fires were burning in the streets of many of our major cities. Our nation was trying to come to grips with the senseless death of a black man who was struggling to breathe. Who does not want to resign and wish it would all go away?

Darn you Winston Churchill! Darn you Rabbi Tarfun! When I want to resign and run and hide, there you are calling me to row to the end and telling me that even though I am not obligated to complete the task neither am I free to desist from it.

And then there is that preacher in Hebrews who starts naming names, names like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Rahab, names of those who have lived by faith, names of those who did not desist from the task, names of those who rowed until their end, who rowed faithfully until their end, because they believed in a better future, because they believed in a better hope, because they believed God was not done with this world. After naming names in Hebrews 11, the preacher calls us to action. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” At that point the preacher in Hebrews then names the name that matters most. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning it’s shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1,2)

There it is. Jesus did not resign. Jesus did not desist. Jesus rowed until the end, until the very end. Because Jesus did not resign, it is Jesus who now reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Anyway, it is Monday, June 1st. This is day 80 in our daily devotional. And here on Monday, June 1st, the message is pretty clear. Get back to the galley. Grab an oar. And keep rowing. Keep rowing until the end.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 79

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 79, May 31, 2020
“One Father”

Like wildfire the Coronavirus has spread to cover almost the whole world. Added to the flames of the virus we are witnessing once again the fires of racism and lingering injustices for the African American community. This has been complicated by the fires burning from riots in many of our major cities. Now on the Day of Pentecost we have yet another fiery image. Pentecost marks the day the Holy Spirit descended on the early church with what seemed to be “Tongues of fire.”

I do not know how to measure the impact of Pentecost on the fires of the Coronavirus, but the bible is clear about how Pentecost impacts the fires of racism. Immediately the fires of Pentecost brought unity through that strange gift of tongues. People of different languages were able to understand one another. The Holy Spirit brought unity to a great throng of people who had come together from far off places. The flames of Pentecost spread and soon hostilities among Jews and Samaritans were overcome, a shared bond was formed between a Jewish man and an African from Ethiopia, and Peter sat down to eat in the home of a Gentile.

Walter Brueggemann identifies the central vision of the bible in these words, “That all of creation is one, every creature in community with every other, living in harmony and security toward the joy and well-being of every other creature.” (Living Toward a Vision: Biblical Reflections on Shalom, p. 15) The flames that fall on that first day of Pentecost are designed to reach unto the very ends of the earth.

The flames of Pentecost are good flames. The flames of Pentecost represent the fire of the Holy Spirit, the presence of God made real in human lives. Because God’s love is for the whole world, God’s desire is that his Spirit would live in all people, people of every color and people from every continent. Ephesians chapter two proclaims the liberating news that dividing walls of hostility between races have been torn down. The important exhortation that follows calls on the church to take this liberating news and live into a new reality. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)

The fire of Pentecost is meant to burn brightly in our hearts. The fire of Pentecost is the Holy Spirit. Romans 8 begins on the hopeful note that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8 ends with the powerful promise that there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God that in Christ Jesus our Lord. Right in the middle of that very same chapter we are told that through the Holy Spirit we receive adoption as children of God. “…by (the Holy Spirit) we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15, 16) Through the Holy Spirit we are all adopted as children of God. As children of God we all have One Father.

Friends of ours from years back have a marriage that mirrors the kingdom of heaven. The family is wonderfully diverse. The husband is Hispanic. The wife is Anglo. Together they have a daughter and through adoption their family is now a beautiful rainbow that includes African American and Chinese. Unfortunately, the wife has said that sometimes when she takes her kids shopping, she will be approached by people who with a look of judgment in their eyes ask, “How many fathers do your kids have?” She said those comments hurt. She said, “Prejudice is just a really hard thing.”

Prejudice is a really hard thing. The fires of prejudice continue to burn. But there is another fire, and that is the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit who brings unity, the Holy Spirit who gives all of God’s children the Spirit of adoption. It breaks my heart to know our friend has suffered the pain of being asked that hurtful and judgmental question, “How many fathers do your kids have?” But it gives me hope to know that with a fire in her eyes she is able to answer that hurtful question with these words of faith, “They have one father.” What she means is, “They have One Father.” We have One Father. That One Father has adopted us. Together, as brothers and sisters, we are all God’s children. As a song that has meant so much to so many says, “We are one in the Spirit.”

I pray for the fires that are burning today. I pray that the fire of Pentecost would burn brightest of all. I pray that through the Holy Spirit, and through people filled with the Holy Spirit, God would do a powerful work to bring justice, healing, reconciliation, and unity to our world.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 78

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 78, May 30, 2020
“When”

Kipling’s timeless poem begins with the word “If.” Both the widespread fame as well as the enduring impact stand as testament that Kipling made the right choice with that simple two letter title to his epic poem. Me, I might have muddled things up and called the poem, “When.”

Each stanza in Kipling’s classic presents a “when,” a life situation that requires a response. “If” you can do this “when” such and such a circumstance comes your way, “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it…”

Without using the same exact words, Jesus concludes The Sermon on the Mount with a similar “If” and “When” proposition. In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus says in essence, “If you hear my words and put them into practice, you will be like the wise person who builds their house on a solid rock. When the rain comes down, when the streams rise, and when the winds blow and beat against that house, it will not fall, because it has its foundation on the rock.”

With the words “If” and “When” before us today, we must note that the storms of life are not an “If” according to Jesus. The storms are a “When.” The storms will come. In a life that has not even filled sixty years (yet), my time on this earth has seen the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK. There have been wars in such places as Viet Nam, the Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Earthquakes have hit all corners of the earth, as have tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, drought, famine, and pestilence. There have been nuclear meltdowns with the accompanying nuclear waste. Our personal lives are not exempt from the storms. We live in a world filled with diagnoses of cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s…announcements of divorce, trust that is broken, relationships that are shattered, loved ones who die, and dreams that are crushed. And then along comes something like the Coronavirus. The storms of life are “When”, not “If”.

Knowing full well that the storms will come, Jesus boldly says, “If you hear my words and put them into practice, you will be building your life on a rock, and that rock will hold you up. That rock will support and sustain you through all the storms of life.” I believe that. I believe in Jesus. I know that you believe in Jesus.

Beginning Monday, June 8th, you are invited to begin a daily reading program through the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew is the Gospel that has the little parable about building your life on the Rock of Jesus Christ. For eight weeks, beginning June 8th and finishing on July 31st, we will read a portion of a chapter or a whole chapter from Matthew’s Gospel. Luba is putting the finishing touches on a booklet that we will make available to anyone who wants to participate in this spiritual journey. The daily readings will take between five and ten minutes, but I hope you will linger with the particular passage, reflecting on what God’s Word means in your life, reflecting on how God might be speaking to you. We are in the middle of a storm. The storm has rocked our world. The storm has rocked our nation. The storm has rocked our church. And the storm has rocked each and every one of our lives. Where can we find strength and shelter during this storm? We find our strength and our shelter in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our Rock.

As we prepare to take one more step on a spiritual journey that draws us closer and closer to our Rock, to our Lord Jesus Christ, may these words from a well-known hymn encourage us to stay strong, to stay faithful, to stay committed, and most importantly, to stay close to Jesus.

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand. (My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less, Edward Mote)

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 77

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 77, May 29, 2020
“Addie’s Envelopes”

A woman has lost something of great value to her. A coin has been lost. She lights a lamp. She sweeps the house. She searches carefully. She searches until she finds it. And when she finds it? She calls her friends of course, and her neighbors. She gathers them all together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.” (Luke 15:8,9)

Right before the virus hit and everything shut down, I found my own “Lost coin.” The woman in the parable had to search through her whole house to find her lost coin. I only had to open the top drawer of my desk. Unfortunately, I might have had the more difficult task. Buried inside my top drawer is a collection of rare artifacts that could supply a couple of museums with floors and floors of rare artifacts…pens from the many companies promoting their business, vintage paper clips of every color and size, business cards from salespeople who came by to tell us about the latest hardware, software, church growth information and social media innovation. Various sermon notes are stuffed in. The remains of candy bars I somehow didn’t finish…now that really amazes me, I can’t believe I ever left any remains from a candy bar. The Classics IV would be glad to know I have many faded photographs. And there is more…much more. To those who adhere to the mantra that cleanliness is next to godliness, you do not want to look inside the top drawer of my desk.

So one day right before the virus shut everything down, I was rummaging through the top drawer of my desk when to my great surprise I found my “Lost coin.” The lost coin was actually a one-dollar bill. The one-dollar bill was safely tucked inside an envelope. The one-dollar bill was safely tucked inside a church offering envelope.

One of my most cherished moments during worship is when the kids come forward and I get to spend a few minutes talking with them about God. Every one of the children God has given us to shepherd and care for holds a special place in our hearts. Having a chance to tell them a story, ask some questions, try to figure out how God is working in our lives, those moments are priceless. When Addie is with us, I know there will be an added blessing. Addie always brings me an offering envelope. Written on the envelope is a brief message, and I don’t mind telling you how happy it makes me to read her messages, like the one that said, “I love it when you smile.” With the offering envelope and with the little note, there is always a one-dollar bill.

From the first day Addie gave me an envelope with a dollar in it, I have been placing the envelopes in the top drawer of my desk, saving all the envelopes for a day when we might use her offerings for a very special purpose. I didn’t know what that special purpose would be, and as five years have passed the envelopes have accumulated in the top drawer of my desk.

One day, right before the virus shut everything down, I had been upstairs in our Fellowship Hall, looking at a wall of envelopes. Our youth group and a committed core of adults are planning a mission trip to Ghana. (Note: Due to the Coronavirus the trip is now planned for the summer of 2021) Someone brought forward a brilliant idea for a fundraiser. The fundraiser involves envelopes, 200 envelopes to be precise. The two hundred envelopes have a dollar figure starting with $1 and going all the way to $200. Members and friends of the church take an envelope, and whatever dollar figure is on the envelope, they put that amount in and return the envelope. As the envelopes are taken down, a new envelope goes up. The new envelope is red, and it simply says, “THANK YOU.” I am happy to say there are more than 100 red envelopes saying “THANK YOU” on our wall now.

On that day right before the virus shut everything down, I had been up in Fellowship Hall looking at the wall of envelopes, a wall that was quickly becoming a sea of red, and I was just feeling very blessed to be part of a church that supports young people in their desire to serve the Lord. I went back downstairs to my office and for some reason I have now forgotten, I opened my top drawer. And there was one of the envelopes from Addie. At that moment, I realized the Ghana Trip Envelope Fundraiser was just the right project to support with all of Addie’s one-dollar bills, which also happened to be in envelopes. Well, now the search was on. I pulled everything out of my top drawer, and when all was said and done, I found more than 50 envelopes from Addie. Just like the woman in the bible who found her “Lost coin” there was lots of hootin’ and hollerin’. I was genuinely joyful. And God is so good. I also found an assortment of other bills, not only one-dollar bills but fives and tens and even a few twenties. All told, Addie and the additions added up to more than one hundred dollars.

I was so happy to write about this wonderful blessing. I was working on a newsletter article to let our whole church know. Then the virus hit. Everything shut down. Now figures like trillions of dollars were put before us. In the crush of the virus, I forgot about Addie’s Envelopes. Until last week. I found Addie’s Envelopes again. This time they were sitting next to my desk and it was much easier to find them. Would it surprise you to know that finding her envelopes a second time was just as much a cause of joyful celebration as the first. Maybe even more so.

The virus has done a lot to take the wind out of our sails. When everything shut down there was not much we could do. We felt helpless. Maybe we began to feel hopeless. The challenges before us as a nation and as a world are monumental. Trillions of dollars…that is a lot of zeroes representing a lot of debt and a whole lot of people who are going to struggle to pay rent and buy food and get some clothes for their kids when school starts back up.

Addie’s Envelopes are helping me to remember we cannot do everything, but we can do some things. Yesterday I went back in Fellowship Hall. I saw the wall of envelopes. I found an envelope that just about matches the amount of money we have from Addie’s Envelopes and the various additions. Today I am putting $139 dollars from Addie and her additions in an envelope and I’m dropping it off at church.

Some of our math minded members quickly figured out that if all 200 envelopes numbered from $1.00 to $200.00 were taken and turned back in, this envelope fundraiser would generate $20,100. Wow. That is a whole lot of money. Because of Addie’s Envelopes, I am going to use that wall of envelopes to remember that the way you raise $20,100 is with 200 envelopes…and one of those envelopes for $139 has been filled up with all the dollars one sweet little girl has given over five years, plus the additions of other generous friends. Addie’s Envelopes, envelopes holding one dollar each, will be part of something so much bigger than one single dollar. We have a long journey ahead of us as we recover from the Coronavirus Crisis. Addie’s Envelopes serve to remind us a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 76

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 76, May 28, 2020
“For whom the bell tolls”

During another time of a sweeping sickness, three waves of a great plague swept through London, taking the lives of one third of the population. It was a devastating pandemic. Suffering with all of the symptoms of that deadly disease, John Donne, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London’s largest church, was quarantined. He lived in isolation as he battled the illness. Every time there was a death in London, the bells of the churches would ring.

In his isolation, in the midst of desolation, seeking to find consolation, John Donne was able to wrestle with his faith until he came to realize that even in death there was the comfort of knowing that all humanity is connected together, related in a mysterious and marvelous way. That came to mind when he heard the tolling of the bell.

Today we face the reality that 100,000 of our fellow citizens in the United States of America have died from the Coronavirus. May these deaths not be forgotten. May these deaths, each and every one of these deaths, serve to remind us that we are all related to one another, that none of us lives to ourselves alone. If we live, we live unto the Lord. And if we live unto the Lord, we live unto one another, for in our Lord Jesus Christ we are one Body. In this one Body, we weep with those who weep.

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

“No man is an Island, entire of itself;

Every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the less,

As well as if a Promontory were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine own were;

Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind;

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls…

It tolls for thee.” John Donne (1573-1761)

Prayer: O Lord, we grieve the loss of life. Please comfort the families of all who mourn. May your peace that passes all understanding guard the hearts and minds of all who have suffered loss. In Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Note: Philip Yancey has an excellent chapter about John Donne in his book “Soul Survivor”.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 75

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 75, May 27, 2020
“Joining hands”

Somewhere in my childhood memories is a picture of two hands clasped together. One hand was black. One hand was white. No words accompanied the picture. Just two hands clasped together. One hand was black. One hand was white.

Although I do not remember exactly where that picture was displayed, my own memory places it hung on a wall or displayed on a shelf in the home we grew up in. If my memory is faulty, which it may well be, and the picture was not in our home growing up, it should have been.

In the summer of 1966 two men met at a YMCA camp. One man was black. One man was white. They developed a friendship that transformed their lives. It also transformed the lives of their children. Interestingly enough the black man was named Mr. Green. His name was Preston Green and he and his family had moved from the deep south, from Louisiana, to a small town in Central California. The white man was named Carl Eberly. Carl Eberly was my dad.

Mr. Green and Mr. Eberly met working as volunteers at a YMCA camp in the summer of 1966. When the pages of the calendar turned to November my dad called up Mr. Green and invited his family to come join the Eberly family for a Thanksgiving meal. Remember, the year was 1966. Remember, racial tensions were high all across our nation. Remember, there were dividing walls of hostility. There was a highway running smack dab through the center of our town. Many of the black families lived on one side and many of the white families lived on the other side of that highway. But that Thanksgiving of 1966 Mr. Preston Green and his family got in their car, crossed that highway, drove down Fitzgerald Lane, and joined our family for a Thanksgiving dinner.

When Thanksgiving rolled around the next year, Mr. Green called and invited the Eberlys to share the Holiday Meal. On Thanksgiving Day of 1967, we crossed that same highway, drove into the Home Garden neighborhood and had Thanksgiving with the Greens. Every year after we would alternate between homes, the Eberlys and the Greens, always sharing Thanksgiving together.

A highlight of the meal was when Mr. Green would make his annual speech. The turkey had been whittled down to just a few bones, the piles of mashed potatoes had been consumed, we had feasted on Mrs. Green’s famous coca-cola jello salad, and so much pumpkin pie had been stuffed in our guts that we were about to explode. It was then that Mr. Green would push back his chair and begin. It was always the same. Speaking to my father, he would say, “Well, Carl, I guess it was back in 1966 that the Eberlys first had the Greens over for Thanksgiving dinner. And every year we have been sharing this fine meal together.” It was so predictable that when my brother and I got to be teenagers, we would have fun and mimic Mr. Green. When he would lean back, so would we. When he would say his speech, our lips would silently mouth the words with him in perfect unison, “Well, Carl, I guess it was back in 1966….”

I will never forget the first Thanksgiving after our oldest son was born. It was 1985. We drove down from Sacramento for Thanksgiving dinner. The Greens were there. We threw the football, we visited, we admired the babies. Then we sat down to eat. We whittled the turkey down to just a few bones. We consumed mounds of mashed potatoes. Mrs. Green’s coca-cola salad was as good as ever. And even though our bellies were full we kept stuffing our faces with pumpkin pie. And then right on cue, at the climactic moment, Mr. Green leaned back in his chair. I knew what was coming. It was so predictable. It was like clockwork. Mr. Green leaned back in his chair…but now I did not lean back and mimic him. Instead I watched with a strange wonder and awe, a profound sense of humility and gratitude. That year when Mr. Green said, “Well, Carl, I guess it was back in1966 that the Eberlys first had the Greens over for Thanksgiving dinner,” I did not joke around at all. Instead I looked at Mr. Green and then I looked at my dad. Without ever making a big deal about it, these two men had helped me to accept people whose skin was a different color than mine. Then I looked at my son, just a baby boy, not even one year old. I said to myself, “I hope that when my son grows up, he will look at me and be able to say ‘my dad taught me how to love and respect people of all races and religions, of all color and creed.’”

In 1966 two men clasped hands. One hand was black. One hand was white. Did they simply clasp hands in friendship, choosing not to let something like the color of their skin come between what proved to be a rich and wonderful relationship that spanned the years? Or did they intend something more, two men of different color purposely choosing to reach out across a racial divide because they believed the world is a better place when people are judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin, because they believed that if God’s final intention is that the wolf will lay down with the lamb, then certainly two human beings, both created in the image of God, can join hands even though the color of those hands is dramatically different.

That was back in 1966. If Mr. Green were still alive right now, in the year 2020, I wonder if he might lean back in his chair and say a slightly different Thanksgiving speech. “Well Carl, it was back in 1966 that the Eberlys first had the Greens over for Thanksgiving dinner…and Carl, there is still work to be done.” I’m sure if Mr. Green and Mr. Eberly were watching the nightly news right now, along with concern for the Coronavirus, they would be deeply concerned and deeply disturbed by the horrible images that tell us race still divides.

Somewhere in my childhood memories is a picture that had two hands clasped together. One hand was black. One hand was white. No words accompanied the picture. Just two hands clasped together. One hand was black. One hand was white. Mr. Green and my dad are no longer with us. Now it is our turn. Now it is my turn. My hand is white. My hand is reaching out. No matter the color of your skin, my hand is reaching out. Two men of different color clasped hands fifty years ago and what they did directly impacted the world in which they lived and the families they raised. Coming out of our time of isolation, what an important chance we are being given. If we join hands now, maybe in another fifty years we will be one step closer to a world where every life is valued and every person is treated with dignity and respect, because every person…because every single person is created in the image of God.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 74

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 74, May 26, 2020
“The mask is temporary”

We have been asked to wear masks when we are in public settings. While many have complied with this request, others struggle to accept the necessity of wearing a mask. One thing I keep in mind is that the masks are only temporary. Whether the wearing of masks lasts a few more weeks or months, perhaps even longer, my belief is that at some point we will no longer wear the masks. Just knowing the mask is temporary has helped me to strap mine on when my first inclination is to choose my personal comfort over the obvious inconvenience.

Knowing the mask is temporary has helped me because I have seen a mask that is not temporary. I have seen a mask that was permanent. The last year or so of my dad’s life, he wore a mask. He wore a mask that was permanent. Before the progressive disease he suffered from took his life, the disease took away his ability to smile. The disease caused what the doctors called, “Masking.” During his last days his face had no expression and no emotion. And then he died.

As our hearts were filled with the great sadness of losing someone we loved so dearly, something truly wonderful happened. My dad’s younger brothers traveled from Ohio to California for his memorial service. Their faces bore an uncanny resemblance to my dad when he was younger, when he could express emotion. At that moment I realized the mask that dad wore those final days of his life was not permanent after all. His mask was only temporary. I saw his younger brothers on the Friday night of Labor Day Weekend. The Memorial Service was the next day, a Saturday. At my dad’s memorial service, I stood up and shared these thoughts about his mask.

“As my dad got more and more sick, I would have dreams that were very difficult. In my dreams, my dad would be smiling. I would awake from these dreams with a sad ache in my heart. One of the first effects his illness had on him was called masking. His face lost the ability to express feelings, and so he could no longer smile. That might have been the most difficult thing to lose.

Take away the ability to walk. Take away the ability to talk. Take away the ability to eat, even the ability to go to the bathroom. That was all bad enough. But don’t take away his smile. Not that beaming smile that would light up at a good joke (or even a bad one), the smile that would ignite when he saw one of his grandchildren, the self-effacing smile that would recognize when he had goofed up or been had by one of our countless pranks. Give us the smile.

But the disease took the smile. And that hurt.

And then yesterday I saw my dad smile again. My dad’s death has brought together a wonderful group of family and friends, ones who have dropped their plans and come here at great cost and inconvenience. That means the world to us. Each one of you being here is a gift. But I don’t think I can describe what it meant when my dad walked into our backyard last night…twice. Two times last night my dad walked into our backyard. His brothers, his younger brothers, Uncle Roger and Uncle Herb flew in from Ohio. It was like seeing dad in his prime. Their faces were full of expression. They were telling jokes like dad. They both went through the food line like dad. And they both smiled. I was drinking a glass of wine, but with apologies to the Swinging Medallions, ‘It wasn’t wine I had too much of it was a double shot of my father’s love.’

I guess that pretty much expresses how I feel about my dad’s death. We miss him. But boy is it good to know the mask has been taken off. Our hope in the resurrection life of Jesus Christ, the promise that he will make all things new makes me believe the mask is gone. Like the book of Revelation tells us, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away…I am making everything new.” The mask is gone. The smile is back. Thanks be to God.”

Someday we will all take our mask off. By someday, I mean this Coronavirus Crisis will eventually come to an end. But the someday I am really thinking of is not a day that will happen here on this earth. The someday I am thinking of is a day when the mask we wear will be removed permanently. On that day we will see God face to face. It is inconvenient to wear a mask. It can also be uncomfortable. But it is only temporary. The mask is only temporary. Someday…someday…some great and glorious day, we will see our Savior face to face, and all that is temporary will fade away. Having that kind of hope in that kind of a God helps me deal with a lot of the temporary challenges we face in this life.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 73

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 73, May 25, 2020
“Memorial Day”

• The muffled drums with their steady beat sending a chill down your spine, causing you to lean in with reverential anticipation for the first words of the stirring hymn, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…”

• The sight of a flag with the stars and stripes rippling like waves in the wind.

• Flowers being laid at the tomb of one who served so faithfully.

• The awesome feeling that engulfs you during a flyover, jets cutting a crisp and clear path through the bright blue of the sky.

• A lone bugler signaling the end of a service that honors a veteran who is now laid to rest.

Memorial Day is a special day every year. In the early 80s our youth choir would sing on Memorial Day at a local cemetery. It was a very moving experience to sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic and O Beautiful for Spacious Skies, surrounded by flags, surrounded by flowers, surrounded by a crowd that came together to honor and remember loved ones, and surrounded by the humbling reality that these were, as the hymn captures so beautifully, “the heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life.”

On this Memorial Day, a Memorial Day celebrated in the midst of the Coronavirus Crisis, I am thinking of some of the lessons these brave heroes might teach us as we face our own battle.

• When the U.S. Army was fighting to defeat the Nazis a soldier’s parachute carried him off course. He landed behind enemy lines. Desperately seeking some sign from his comrades of their location, he searched the mountains behind him. At one moment a light shined, signaling where he could find his fellow troops. He would remember lifting his eyes to the hills, wondering where his help would come from…and he claimed Psalm 121 as his guiding verse for the more than 70 years he lived after that day in battle. “I lift my eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help? My help cometh from the Lord…

• On an LST in the Pacific, a young man stood on board his ship, watching as battles raged, as gunfire was exchanged, and as many ships went down and lives were lost. Searching for some way to calm himself he began singing the hymns he had learned as a child. He sang over the roar of the battle. He sang at the top of his lungs. He sang with all of his heart and with all of his soul. And he promised the Lord if he ever made it home, he would be at church every Sunday, and he would sing at the top of his lungs, every Sunday. I can verify he attended church every Sunday. I can also verify he sang at the top of his lungs…every Sunday. His son said it was a little embarrassing as a teenager to stand next to his dad blaring out all his favorite Fanny Crosby hymns. Years later, when his dad was widowed and had to come to worship alone, that son returned and stood by his father as his father kept right on singing at the top of his lungs. A promise made in the Pacific turned out to bring a lot of calm and peace as we all so dearly loved our good friend Addison.

• At a Veteran’s Cemetery I did a graveside service for a man who had served in the Navy. Along with his service to his country, something this man did upon his return from his military days stood out as being extremely important. War is brutal and it exacts a great toll from the ones who serve. Coping with what has been experienced in war is not easy. This man discovered he had allowed alcohol to become his coping mechanism. He joined AA and found a new beginning. For the rest of his life he not only attended AA, he sponsored a meeting at our church, and he sponsored countless individuals who faced their own battle with drinking.

• Then there is this faithful soldier who is buried in Arlington Cemetery. I have not served in our Armed Forces, but I have heard a phrase used many times. “Leave no man behind.” Soldiers look out for one another. Soldiers have each other’s back. Billy took that seriously. Billy came home from war and married his beautiful bride. They had a long and loving marriage. Then his wife got sick. She had a progressive illness. Billy had learned a valuable lesson in the military. That valuable lesson is one Billy had first learned through his faith in God. Billy loved the verse that is given twice at the end of Deuteronomy and once at the beginning of the Book of Joshua, and then repeated yet again in the New Testament letter of Hebrews. The verse expresses God’s undying commitment to us, to us who belong to God. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Billy had experienced that steadfast love of God, he had lived it out with his fellow soldiers, and now as his wife was slowly losing her battle with a progressive illness, Billy had above her bed, on a sticky note these words of Scripture, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” He never did. Billy was right by his beloved wife’s side until the day she died, until she took her last breath, until she made it safely home. Muffled drums…waving flags…flowers at a graveside…soaring jets…and a lone bugler playing taps. Memorial Day is an important day. We have so many who have modeled how to serve honorably in times of battle. May their lessons not be lost on us as we engage in our own battle with the Coronavirus.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne