is Our Father still alive?

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Responsive Reading: Psalm 37
New Testament Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50
The Gospel: Luke 6:27-38

Today’s reading in Genesis 45 picks up after Joseph has finally revealed his identity to his brothers, who had come to Egypt looking for food.

Many years before this, Joseph’s brothers had grown weary of his pride and rather arrogant behavior. They had gotten tired of the favoritism shown to him by their father Jacob – and probably felt hurt. Except for Benjamin, the youngest, none of the other brothers had been born to Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel, which likely added to their pain of feeling left out or ignored.

Even Joseph’s famous multi-colored coat showed favoritism that must have been like a red flag to the brothers every time they saw him coming. Some translations, however, refer to that coat as “long-sleeved,” rather than multi-colored, which is entirely possible since Hebrew words to this day leave out vowels, thereby allowing for a variety of word choices when translating into English. If that’s the case, those long sleeves would have been yet another source of irritation as this implied royalty or, at the very least, a man who was not the hard-working laborer they were expected to be.

Added to these hard feelings was the assumption that Joseph came to spy on them and report back to their father. In other words, Joseph’s brothers had every reason to believe he was a “tattle-tale.” And so, what did they do? They threw him into a pit!

Eventually, travelers picked him up, carried him off, and sold him into slavery. Through this and other trials, the prideful young man undoubtedly learned humility.

To Joseph’s credit, he didn’t sit around wallowing in his misery. Wherever he was, he helped other people. And so, he rose from imprisonment to servitude in the house of Potiphar, but after Potiphar’s wife hurled false accusations against him, Joseph landed in prison again!

More years passed until word got around that he could interpret dreams. Through God’s grace and guidance, Joseph was able to let Pharaoh know to prepare for a severe famine, and wisely, the ruler of Egypt put Joseph in charge of that project of storing then distributing food.

Now, one way to look at this is that Joseph was in the right place at the right time. Some might call that coincidence, but believers in the Lord will call that God-incidence, which, in essence, is what Joseph did. After years of suffering, hardship, and rising again, Joseph realized that God had prepared him for such a time as this.

Just by recognizing and acknowledging God’s hand on him, Joseph had no cause to be prideful about his own gifts but to give credit to God for every good thing the Lord had brought from bad circumstances.

Joseph knew without a doubt that the Almighty God was with him. The strength of that faith surely got him through the worse times, and, as he matured spiritually, he could see God’s orchestration over his life. Joseph had every reason to believe, as we do, that Father God was and is alive and well and working for our well-being.

But what about his earthly father – the man who had doted over him and adored him to the expense of all others? As soon as Joseph had revealed himself to his brothers, the first thing he did was ask, “Is my father still alive?”

Do you notice anything odd about that question? Joseph is talking to his brothers, and yet he doesn’t ask, “Is OUR father still alive?” but “MY” father.

His father was alive, of course, and the two were reunited for the rest of Jacob’s life. Although they had been through extreme hardship, God brought them together again.

Do you believe it? Do we believe God is still alive and well and working for our well-being?

If so, we, too, can hope for God to find a way to bring good out of the very worse circumstances we face. But what do we do in the meantime? How do we cope?

Psalm 37, which we read, in part, today provides biblical answers:

  • Trust in the Lord. Do Good.
  • TAKE delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.
  • Commit your way to the Lord. Trust Him, and He will act.
  • Be still before the Lord. Wait for Him.
  • Refrain from anger. Let go of whatever makes you mad.

In the Beatitudes we read last week, Jesus quoted Psalm 37:11, which says, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” The humble, strong-in-faith, non-arrogant people are assured of an inheritance from OUR Father – God.

By recognizing, more and more, that God is OUR Father – rather than just mine or yours or theirs – we’re getting ready for the biggest task our Father gives us: Love.

Today’s New Testament reading from the epistles reminds us that we look like Adam and Eve – our first parents, born of the earth and dust. But, through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we now bear the image of God’s Son – born not of dust but of Holy Spirit – born of ongoing love and life.

Our dependence on Christ opens up countless opportunities for us when we no longer rely on ourselves, but on the Lord Jesus Who gave everything for us that we might live – forever, of course. But also right now!

Right now, we live in Christ as though He is alive in us. God our Father is still alive. And so is God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.

As soon as we realize we cannot orchestrate our own lives much less anyone else’s, we might not be so angry with others or so mad at ourselves. Think about it. If Joseph had sat in a damp, musty prison stewing for years, do you think he would have risen to the second highest position in all of Egypt? Would years of wallowing in self-pity or fear or anger or self-loathing have given him the same chance to help others and keep his father and siblings from dying of hunger?

Is his Father God still alive? Is ours?

Trusting God our Father and taking delight in Him enables us to enjoy His presence as we wait for Him to guide, inspire, and empower us to act.

Act how? With love.

In today’s Gospel reading from Luke 6, Jesus tells us: “Listen! Listen to Me! Love your enemies. Treat haters with kindness, with goodness. Bless anyone and everyone who curses you. Pray for anyone and everyone who treats you badly.”

Say, what? Say: Yes!

Can we give anyone and everyone the kindness, courtesy, exhortation, and even the chastisement needed? Can we give them the benefit of the doubt and the forgiveness we want other people to give us? And, to avoid grudges or resentments, can we do this without expecting anything at all in return?

God Himself gives us what we need to pour onto others the love and mercy He pours onto us. He blesses us through the majesty of creation, the sacrifice of His Son, the communion we have with one another, and the Bible. God generously gives us His love, forgiveness, and the ongoing gift of the Holy Spirit.

Our Father God is still alive!

As we believe and receive Him, our Father God is alive in us! Let’s talk to Him now:

Our Father in heaven and on earth, may Your love permeate our lives. Help us to trust You, delight in You, and wait for Your word to guide and empower us. Help us, Lord, to love as You love in Jesus’ Name.

Amen.

Mary Sayler, ©2019

Readings from The Revised Common Lectionary used by many church denominations

Symbols: Water and Fire

Scriptures for Sunday, January 13:
Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17 and 21-22

Pop quiz!

If I ask you to name a symbol – any symbol – what do you think of immediately?

A symbol can bring to mind something we all understand – like the symbol of a cross, a wedding ring, the sign of the fish – or it can be unique to ourselves. For example, you probably wouldn’t guess a personal symbol that represents something memorable to me: a cold baked potato! For me, that potato symbolizes amazing generosity because of something that happened years ago.

When I was growing up, my family lived on the top of a hill in a very nice but modest house. Running perpendicular to our street, another road ended in an unpaved path that trailed off into an overgrown, unkempt wooded area where small, weathered cabins were scattered here and there. For some reason, people called the place “Kinney Town.” And, every so often, one or two girls would come up the hill, knock on our front door, and ask Mother is she had any shoes or clothes that my sisters and I had outgrown. Somehow, Mother always had something to give.

One day, when I followed my mother to the door, one of the girls asked if I wanted to come to her house. Our of curiosity, I did, and Mother said yes. So I went down to Kinney Town and into an unlit one-room shack with no furniture that I can remember, except for a pot-bellied wood-stove that stood, black and cold, in the dark room. Atop that stove was – you guessed it – a cold baked potato, which the girls offered me and which, decades later became to me a symbol of incredible generosity and the impetus for this short poem:

Down Kinney Town

Feet bare, the girls came up today,
and Mama gave them ouch-grown shoes
that once belonged to me or Kay,
but, oh, I longed to give them too.

Two girls they were: soiled blonde, unkempt –
not like Mama’s girls who shone
in new sewn clothes and often dreamt
of finer galaxies than home.

With clean hands bare, could I, a child,
share much with girls from a small shack, wild?
But one said, “Come,” so I went down –
down the tangled path to Kinney Town.

Theirs was adventure I could play.
A cold potato rationed me –
eyeless, grown in soil, unbent. They
gave that last leftover. Free.
I took.
Then home I went with backward look.

Mary Harwell Sayler, (c) 1985, 2019, all rights reserved.

Over a half-century later, I still like cold baked potatoes, but I wish I knew what happened to those girls after we moved away. I pray God rewarded their sweet, giving spirits. And I pray God gives each of you equally memorable symbols to remind you of important mile-stones and character-building, life-changing moments in your lives.

God started this, you know! God invented and initiated the use of symbol – probably because God knows how easily we forget! So, the Bible offers a variety of symbols to remind us of those spirit-building moments in our lives and other matters of faith.

The scripture readings today included two symbols often used in the Bible – water and fire. Normally, when we think of fire and water, we don’t think of them as symbols, but as unique substances with distinctive characteristics and accomplishments.

For instance, we know that water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, and that H2O has the ability to refresh, purify, and cleanse. Water quenches our thirst and replenishes a vital element in our bodies without which we would die! Water washes our clothes, our cars, our hair, our houses, and water puts out fires.

Fire! This other symbol in today’s readings also has substance and practical purposes. For example, fire purifies and purges. It warms us, comforts us, and heats our water for a nice cup of tea.

Fire also burns. Sears. Scorches. Torches. It can grill a hamburger or set a forest ablaze. Fire ignites, but it also lights. Candles, the glow of a fireplace, a lit lantern help us to see.

But how do these symbols relate to our lives – or more specifically, our lives in God? What does the Bible show us in the scriptures?

In Isaiah 43, we glimpsed the possibility of suffering – of drowning, of being overwhelmed, of being burnt. But immediately God makes a promise! God’s Word says, “Do not fear! I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name for you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and the rivers will not overwhelm you. When you walk through fire, you won’t be burned. The flames will not consume you.”

Is God asking us to remember the example of the “Burning Bush” Moses saw – the bush that kept throwing off light, warmth and power but never got burned up or burnt out? Are fire and the burning bush symbols God uses to help us remember who we are as the light of Christ, the light on the hill?

Our Gospel reading from the third chapter of Luke bring fire and water together as we listen to the word John the Baptist gave people who came to hear his message. As John said, “One more powerful than I is coming, and I’m not worthy to even loosen His sandals! I’ll baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

The Gospel reading goes on to tell us that Jesus did indeed come to be baptized by John in the Jordan River – not because He needed to repent and have His sins washed away by baptism as we do, but because He set an example for us to follow.

Why? Maybe it’s because baptism gives us a symbol – an icon, a picture – of a precise moment in time we remember as having committed ourselves to God while making a public declaration that lets others know what we believe and where we stand.

Baptism acts as a personal symbol and a communal one as we gather in worship with others who have confessed their belief in Jesus Christ and been baptized too. Baptism also connects us with Bible people and our biblical heritage as it symbolizes Noah’s protection from the flood and reminds us that, like God’s people in the Exodus from Egypt, our Almighty God and Father will part the Red Sea for us and will do all that’s needed to redeem us and free us from whatever enslaves.

As Luke 3:21-22 tells us, the heavens opened as Jesus was praying on His baptismal day, and the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove – another symbol. And The Voice said, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I Am well-pleased.”

Through the water of baptism, God also proclaim us as His beloved children! As we enter those waters, God refreshes us spiritually, mentally, and physically, bringing us forgiveness, healing, and a new life in Christ.

For some of you, however, baptism might have been initiated by your parents, who believed in one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and wanted to give you a head-start, spiritually. If so, your personal profession of faith most likely came later, perhaps at your confirmation or your decision to go forward one Sunday and pledge your life to Christ as people prayed for you.

Regardless, the water of baptism symbolizes cleansing, purification, and a new start. But what about the symbol of fire? How does that affect us, spiritually?

Are we all fired up for God?

Do we feel like we – along with other Christians – have come under fire from others?

Shall we suspect that the fiery trials in our lives might be a purifying test from God?

One or more of those experiences or concerns could be true for us, but no matter what, those of us who have given our lives to Christ need to worry about being thrown into the everlasting fires of hell.

Jesus Christ Himself sets us afire with His Holy Spirit, but it’s a controlled burn, for Jesus Christ is the Living Water – the vital, life-giving, spiritually refreshing, purifying, healing waters of our lives.

Dear Heavenly Father, we praise You for Your gifts of water, fire, and an ongoing life of forgiving love in Your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to be vessels for You, Lord. Fill our cup with You, and give us the opportunities this coming week to offer a cool cup of water to everyone You bring to us in Jesus’ Name.

 

 

 

For God – or against?

With no pastor now, several of us from our Lake Como Community of Hope have been taking turns leading worship, reading scripture, and presenting the sermon — or in my case, a “Bible Talk” — based on the scriptures from The Revised Common Lectionary  for the Sunday assigned.

After reading and re-reading the biblical passages from several translations, I look for a theme that ties the readings from the Torah (aka “Old Testament”) with the Epistle (Letter) and the Gospel readings from the New Testament.

Sometimes a theme or topic is immediately apparent, sometimes not. This week, for example, the readings for September 30, 2018 kept bringing to mind a vital question: “Are we for God or against?”

Although I’ve been known to “tweak” (and even completely rewrite!) a Bible Talk before the Sunday it’s actually presented, I felt urged to go ahead and share this one with you. Before reading, however, you might want to check out the scriptures recommended for September 30, 2018: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22, Psalm 124, James 5:13-20, Mark 9:38-50.

“For God – or against?”

In the day’s reading from Esther, we see prejudice and anti-Semitism at work. Haman didn’t just hate Mordecai though. He conspired to put him to death simply because Mordecai was an honest man – a Jewish man – who worshiped God. Haman’s jealousy and intolerance of one person made him hate-filled enough to maneuver the King into ordering the extermination of the entire Jewish populace!

That’s not exactly the justice meant to be found in the biblical law of an eye for an eye! It’s more like taking a whole city for one eye. It’s more like taking revenge instead of giving justice or mercy.

What Haman didn’t realize is that Queen Esther was a relative of Mordecai and also a Jew. More important, Haman didn’t realize that being against the people of God sets a person squarely against God Himself.

Anti-Semitism does that. Bigotry does that. It polarizes Christians against Christians, Jews against Jews, and Jews and Christians against one another. This also happens when one political party or one sex or one race turns against the other, even though both come from the same creator and worship the same God.

Regardless of why such things get to that point, we have to decide – as individuals and as a church Body of Christ: Are we FOR God or against? Are we strongly FOR or against ANY child in the Family of God – even if that child is our self – or someone totally unlike ourselves?

In the other Old Testament passage, we read Psalm 124, which, like many (but not all) of the Psalms, is attributed to King David. Political enemies had come up against David, but the king knew God was with him and with the people of God. By strongly standing FOR God, David had faith that God was FOR him. He showed this by humbly giving credit to God instead of taking credit for the victories and glory that followed.

David was FOR God. And, God was FOR David and the people of God.

Is that true for us too? If we are FOR God does that mean God is FOR us? Or do we think like an immature child might and fear that God is against us?

Here’s the truth according to God’s word: God is love. And, Love is FOR US. God is for us.

Even so, the Bible clearly shows, from Genesis to Revelation, that bad things can and do happen to God’s people. For example, in the New Testament message from the epistle of James, the writer of this letter acknowledges that some Christians suffer and others get sick. Does James complain or blame this on God? No! Amazingly, he tells US to DO SOMETHING about it!

Really? Like what? Well, as James goes on to say, if anyone among us is suffering in some way, we should pray for that person. We should take it upon ourselves to do that. But – if anyone among us is sick, THAT person should do something! The person who is ill should call the elders of the church and ask for prayer! Then, James instructs the elders of the church to anoint that sick person with oil in the Name of the Lord.

But there’s more to it! People don’t just get sick physically. They also get sick mentally and spiritually. So, if that’s the case, James reminds us to confess our sins, admit our wrongdoings, and own up to anything we’re ashamed of or wish we had not done. This act of confession alerts the group to pray for one another, so that we may be healed.

Once we’ve accepted God’s forgiveness, we have a clean slate again! Isn’t that a wonderful plan?! Then, when we’re right with God again, we’re once again righteous. And, as James says, the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective. Such potent prayers make a big difference in the life of the forgiven, in the life of the person who prays, and in the life of the whole church.

When we’re FOR God’s will as revealed in the Bible, God WILL work to bring good for us, no matter how things look at the time. The catch comes in knowing God’s will, knowing what God is like, and knowing God can always be trusted to do the good and right and loving thing – even if circumstances don’t seem to make that super clear at the moment.

Unfortunately, what we think we know about God might be our faulty first impressions or the rumors we heard early in life or the flawed teachings we received from people, who taught whatever sounded good to them, rather than checking to see if it were biblically and spiritually true.

For example, when you were a child, authority figures might have told you God is watching you or out to get you – not because they were mean, but because they believed “good behavior” would get you into heaven. So, that group or particular person might have presented God as the bogey man in order to make you behave and keep you in line!

In real life and in the spiritual realm, such a deity would be nitpicking and judgmental – not at all the loving, merciful, forgiving God the Bible introduces us to consistently, from beginning to end.

Remember, God is FOR us. And, as today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark lets us know, God EMPOWERS us to overcome evil. How? By believing in God’s goodness, rather than our own, and receiving the strength we’re given in the Name of Jesus, we can cast out demons and be at peace with one another. We can be at peace with God and ourselves because we KNOW: God is FOR us!

As we really, really believe the words of Jesus and embrace His Name, our job is to do whatever we can to maintain a close relationship with the Lord. This might mean giving up something that gets between us and God. Or it might mean taking a risk and praying for someone’s healing or asking someone to pray for you. The Lord likes this, for, as Jesus said: “Anyone who does a deed of power in My Name will not be quick to speak ill of Me.”

God LIKES to send His power through us in Jesus’ Name to minister prayers, forgiveness, love, and healing to other people – and to receive the same ourselves. Such opportunities build up our faith, strengthen the Body of Christ, and draw other people to Jesus.

Just think of it! What would our world be like if everyone we know began to believe that the Almighty GOD IS FOR US. What would our world be like – and how powerful and effective would our ministries be – if all of us, clearly and deliberately, made up our minds FOR GOOD, that, yes! WE are FOR God – and God is FOR US.

 

Dear Lord God, Heavenly Father, we thank and praise You for Your Totally Good Self and all Your good gifts to us. Lord, if there is anything – old or new – that’s standing between us, please bring it to light and help us to confess this and receive Your healing.

And, Lord, if we’ve been wavering between the certainty of Your word and Your promises or the doubt of wondering if You always mean what You say, please fill us with Your spirit, draw us to Your word, and set our minds at ease in the truth of You. Help us to give every part of our selves to You in Jesus’ blessed Name. Amen.

 

 

3 ways to get closer to God

Each of these spiritual disciplines provides the basis for a sermon, article, or beginnings of a book. May God guide you as you communicate – clearly, accurately, and lovingly – for Christ.

Pray:

Matthew 6:9 – As Jesus taught us “This is how you’re to pray: Our Father Who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name….”

Mark 11:24 – Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe you’ll receive, and it shall be yours.”

Psalm 122:6 – “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!”

1 Thessalonians 5:17 – “Pray constantly.”

Romans 8:26-27 – “The Holy Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit intercedes with groans that cannot be expressed. And the one who searches our hearts knows the intention of the Spirit, Who intercedes for us according to God’s will.”

Ephesians 6:18 – “Be alert! In every situation, pray in the Spirit. Use every kind of prayer and request for God’s people.”

Matthew 5:44 – As Jesus told us, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who mistreat you.”

Mark 11:25 – Jesus also taught, “When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a complaint or grudge, so your heavenly Father may forgive your offenses.”

Confess:

Psalm 32:1-6 – “When I kept silent about my sins, even my bones ached from groaning. Your hand felt heavy upon me, and my strength drained as in summer heat! But when I acknowledged my sin and no longer tried to hide it, You forgave me and took away my guilt.”

Proverbs 28:13 – “Those who conceal their sins do not prosper. Those who confess and turn from their wrongdoing will receive mercy.”

1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

James 5:16 – “And so, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so you may be healed.”

Romans 10:9 – “If you confess aloud that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Worship:

1 Chronicles 16:29 – “Give to the Lord the glory due His name! Bow down before Him. Bring your gifts of worship to the Lord, Whose holiness is splendid.”

2 Maccabees 1:3 – “May God give you all a heart to worship Him and do His will sincerely with a willing spirit.”

Matthew 4:10 – Jesus said, “Get away, Tempter! As it is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord, your God, and God alone shall you serve.’”

John 4:21-24 – “Indeed, the time is coming – and is here – when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Indeed, the Father seeks such people to worship Him. For God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Revelation 4:11 – “O, Lord our God, You alone are worthy to receive glory and honor and power for You created all things. Through Your will all creation came to be.”

Psalm 100, King James Version (KJV)
“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord is God: it is He Who hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endures to all generations.”

Compiled by Mary Sayler, ©2018, following word searches of various translations found on Bible Gateway.

The Theology of Pronouns!

When Moses asked God to identify Himself in Genesis 3:14, the Lord answered in Hebrew, “YHWH,” which we translate as Yahweh or Anglicize as Jehovah. Either way it means, “I AM Who I AM.”

I AM I.

In Roman numerals, a capital I = one.

I AM One.

Over and over, God tells individuals, “I AM with you,” for example in Jeremiah 30:11, Ezekiel 37:14, and Acts 18:10, but in John 14:20, Jesus speaks to all of His followers:

“Then you will know I AM in My Father and you in Me and I in you.”

Jesus Christ is One with God.
We are One in Christ.
I AM One is with us and in us.

We are One!

Praise God!

So be it.

Amen.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018