September 23, 2021
It Is Us, O Lord, Standing in the Need of Prayer!
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”
Once again, this week we will hear words from the Epistle of James this week during worship. His words from chapter five fit very well with our theme of community. The crux of the passage is regarding prayer and care for each other. James begins this section by reminding the readers of this message that if they are in trouble they should pray. If they are sick, they should ask for the elders of the church to come pray over them and anoint them with oil. They should also seek to confess their sins to each other and pray for forgiveness.
The thread that seems to bind these actions together is the act of prayer. Regardless of the situation, whether it is good or bad, a person of faith should seek answers, and redemption, through prayer. Specifically in this passage from James, it is communal prayer that is referenced.
When I was in seminary, and working my way through the ordination process, I spent several summers doing pulpit supply in the Old Colony Association of the UCC. Over the course of two separate summers, I preached in about thirteen different churches, several of them on multiple occasions. This gave me an opportunity to observe a variety of different liturgical models. I noticed that not every church included the same prayers. Some did not include a prayer of confession, some did not have a time of sharing prior to the Pastoral Prayer. Several times, following worship, I would inquire as to why certain items were omitted. The usual reason for items being left out were a concern for the length of the service. Some others felt that the prayer of confession was not needed every week, so they only included it on Communion Sunday.
My belief regarding worship is that it is like a three-legged stool. The legs are Scripture, prayer, and music. If you weaken or remove one of these legs the stool will topple over. (If you are wondering why the sermon is not one of the legs it is because I believe the sermon is the interpretation of the Scripture.) Once we start excluding parts of the liturgy due to time or convenience, or comfortability, we start lose the impact and effectiveness of worship.
James tells us that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. If we believe that to be true, and I do, then how much more effective is our communal prayer? Time and again we see visions of how our prayers are effective, often in ways we never imagined. So let us remember to continue to pray with and for each other whenever we gather!
September 22, 2021
Planning for the Good Things!
“Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.”
At first blush, today’s verse for Proverbs Wednesday may be a bit of a head scratcher. The concept that all who plan evil go astray might cause you to have a “wait a minute” moment. One might have some disagreement with that thought. Sometimes it seems that those who might wish to harm others, or our world, are not going astray but rather succeeding. At the same time the plans of those who seek the good may not be coming to fruition.
It is times like these when we must take the long view when we consider this verse. While humanity seems to be struggling with division and distraction at this time, we must continue to envision a world in which God’s will guide us to a better place. Many times, in history, our world has faced seemingly insurmountable challenges but the good in the hearts of humanity has won out.
It is easy in difficult times to become discouraged, apathetic, even downright dismayed. But our faith calls us to continue to plan for the good in spite of all the naysayers and negative voices crying out prophesying of a coming doom. It is up to us, the faithful and persevering people of a God whose hand is still touching our world, to seek the good and be the purveyors of compassion.
On the day of Jesus’ arrest in the garden his followers were scattered. In the courtyard of the high priest Jesus’ most faithful follower rejected him three times out of fear. Yet those same disciples whose faith failed them in their time of trial came to become the faithful Apostles who were the foundation of our church today. May we be able to set aside our fears and doubts and find love and faithfulness on this day!
September 21, 2021
The Tax Man!
“Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s
The above verse from Mark is one of the better known, and oft quoted, verses in the Gospels. Jesus speaks these words in reply to a question posed to him by the Pharisees and Herodians. They asked Jesus a loaded question, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” This was a trap because, at least to this group, there was no correct answer. If Jesus answered. “Yes”, then he would offend his Jewish brethren, who were chaffing at the yoke of Roman control and taxation. If he replied, “No”, he would be understood to be rejecting the Roman laws and could be charged with encouraging Jews to withhold taxes.
Jesus’ words were a perfect reply and were designed to both answer the question and anger both the Pharisees and Herodians. He asked for someone to bring him a Roman coin, a denarius. The coin would have had a depiction of the emperor on one side. Jesus, asks them, “whose portrait is this?” When they reply that it is Caesar’s he tells them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s. Clearly this answer catches them all by surprise and causes them to cease their question for a time.
When we look at Jesus’ answer, we can define fairly easily that the item that is Caesar’s is the coin. So it is acceptable to pay the required taxes as long as you understand the proper order of things. Those under Roman rule were expected to accept the emperor as a deity. That was objectionable to Jesus. His theology was that there was only one God, and that was his Father in Heaven. His point was to that the things of this earth that were human concepts, such as money or taxes, needed to be seen as such, merely human inventions. Instead, those who truly believed in God (capital G) give to God their heart and soul, that was the most important commitment. Compared to that obligation taxes, and all other constructs of humanity, were of little significance.
There are many issues in life that get in the way of our relationship with the Lord. Sometimes the day-to-day grind of life is so distracting and perplexing that we forget the ultimate importance that our connection with means to us. May we strive to remember to honor the Lord with the understanding that the most important obligation we have is to honor the Lord by loving the Lord with all our heart, mind, and soul on this day!
September 20, 2021
Clean vs Unclean?
“What goes into a person’s mouth does not make them ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of their mouth, that is what makes them ‘unclean.’”
One of Jesus’ big concerns about the society of his time on earth was how the Law, the set of religious rules laid down over the centuries, had become a tool for the powerful to oppress the poor. The food laws that defined what and how a righteous Jew could eat is a good example of this oppression. If someone did not follow all the rites and rituals behind food preparation and consumption they would be considered “unclean”. This label would cause them to be shunned by others because to come in contact with an “unclean” person would cause them be “unclean” themselves. There were myriad other ways to be unclean, but the food laws were what Jesus chose to focus on in this speech on chapter 15 of Matthew.
The conversation found its genesis in the Pharisees, who were the guardians of the law, coming to Jesus to question why his disciples ate without washing their hands, a violation of the tradition of the elders. The verbal assault by Jesus following this question must have set the Pharisees back on their heels’. He points out the Pharisees tend to forgive transgressions of the commandments if they benefit from it. He uses the commandment to honor mother and father as an example. The tradition of the elders allowed gifts given to the Temple to be excluded in regards to supporting one’s parents in their later years. This leads Jesus to call them hypocrites and he quotes the above verse to the crowd of listeners, much to the dismay of the Pharisees.
When we read Matthew 15:11 we really are forced to agree with Jesus. What we eat has a lot of affect our well being but it does not make us clean or unclean in the regards to the Lord. However, what comes out of our mouths has a great deal in determining our righteousness and well as how others perceive us. Jesus rightly sums up his thoughts in verse 18 when he says, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a person, “unclean”.
There is saying that the eyes are the window to the soul. That may be true but our words are often the window to our heart. This is especially true when we are angry, hurt, or embarrassed. Those are the times when our reactions, but verbal and otherwise, give the world a view of our heart. It is so important, especially in our modern society, to be mindful of our words and actions and how they affect others. May we strive to make our words and actions be a true reflection of the influence of our Lord on our heart and soul!
September 16, 2021
How Ambitious Are We?
“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”
The verse for today’s Devotional comes from one of our texts for this Sunday. Normally on Thursday I try to give you a taste of what awaits you in the sermon on Sunday but this week I decided not to tip my hand ahead of time. Or perhaps I have no idea what I am going to say on Sunday, either way you will have to stop in Sunday (virtually or in person) to find out.
Anyway, the Epistle of James is a treasure trove of teaching believed to have been written by James, the brother of Jesus. Much of his writing focuses on how a person’s life changes and evolves once they become a believer. This is quite appropriate for him to write about as he originally questioned Jesus’s behavior and did not understand Jesus’ mission in the world. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, James became a leader in the fledgling church in Jerusalem.
The verse that we have dialed in today speaks of what, in James’ opinion, is the cause of disorder and evil. The two-headed cause of human depravity are the twin motivations of envy and selfish ambition. Now envy is the close cousin of one of those actions considered as a sin in the Ten Commandments, coveting. One shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor, not even their donkey! Selfish ambition is not specifically deemed as sinful in the Commandments but it can lead one down the path to ruin just as well.
Now, most of us look at ambitious people in a positive light, don’t we? By the same token we view people who lack ambition as being lazy. So, it seems that the dividing line here between being positively or negatively ambitious has to do with your motivation. What is that is driving an individual’s ambition? Are they relentless in their pursuits for the benefit of others, or is it all about themselves? This is the question that serves as the litmus test for all of us. Do we do what we do in life, our thoughts, our speech, our actions, for the benefit ourselves or for the benefit of others? This is a question only we, and our Lord, know the answer to. May our Lord give us the patience, wisdom, and self-awareness to look inside ourselves and understand out true motivations, and the strength to repent if we have wandered from the path of righteousness!