From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe,
"The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt, who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)
"...if Christ has not be raised, your faith is futile---you are still in your sins...then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost...if only for this life we have hope in Christ...we are to be pitied more than all human beings..." (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)
"...the people tried to touch Him, because power was coming from Him and healing them all..." (Luke 6:19)
"...he is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season..." (Psalm 1:3)
& A SPIRITUAL REFLECTION
"...if you look at a tree and see a tree, you haven't really seen a tree... when you look at a tree and see a miracle... then, at last, you have seen..." (Rabbi Abraham Jacob Heschel)
In the midst of pre-occupation with precaution — and fear — related to valid concerns regarding the present pandemic, I must say, these are exciting as well as distracting times. The positive things which happen in taking precaution and developing new ways to communicate — and reaching out to those in need -- have the effect of advancing in our minds what is possible for us in difficult times. I was so pleased to hear of Simone Biles comforting note to Mikaela Shiffrin upon her failed attempts to get Gold during the games. I love this sort of "reaching out".
After being militarily in Afghanistan for over twenty years, we've disengaged. In addition, for the first time during our lifetime we're seriously considering the value of a constitutionally democratic republic. Sometimes we've wondered if our people are ready to discuss and understand the issues involved. The conversation nationally has become literally explosive. All of us know what's been going on! As we consider both sides of today's issues thoughtfully, we often fear the worst will happen. These times have the function of bringing us to our knees.
We may be wrong but there seems to have been a decline in being informed about government, how it works, what part we play in it, and what we need to do to preserve a wonderful legacy of government in the country we live in.
At Holy Cross Lutheran Church, in Pacifica, California, we've attempted to prepare our community for this time and moment. We've presented annually for decades "Independence Sunday". We've invited the finest nationally-known Christian scholars in the areas of Political Science and American history to give solid informative, inspirational messages with the colorful format for worship. Judge Quentin L. Kopp, bless his heart, has been a regular speaker for literally over a decade. We usually have a jazz band on hand to liven things up, playing music essentially, not only American, but also sacred.
It seems also that our national governmental traditions have lost meaning to a certain extent in more recent times among the vast number of our people.
Are we wrong? Do school systems really teach "Government" the way they used to when we went to school in the 50s?
I suppose we could go on...
But, from my point of view, there is something which underlies the issues involving government, and sports, and international intrigue, and revolution, and entertainment, and the music that moves us.
Our neighborhood used to be "safe haven". Just recently we've had two burglaries and several incidents of people trying to open doors and look in windows, right within blocks of our house.
It causes a person to ask "What is going on these days?"
Hold on! Pause for a moment!
These are not just the behavioral patterns of our time only, nor our views of the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of our government and our representatives in Washington D.C. This kind of behavior, these attitudes toward the obvious shortcomings of our government have been around ever since the establishment of the United States of America. The men who founded this nation upon the principles of the American Constitution, as well as a Bill of Rights, were persons of keen awareness of the human condition. They were men (backed by profound women as wives) who were grounded in Scripture and therefore produced a document to curb the power-hungry, greedy persons who would seek to destroy what they had wisely birthed.
Chief among them was James Madison of Virginia. He was the prize student of the "grandfather" of the Constitution, the Reverend Dr. John Witherspoon, teacher of fifty-two of the signers of the Constitution, and fellow signer.
As a nation we have departed from the remarkable spirit of the American Constitution based upon the Judeo-Christian faith and its presuppositions regarding society and human conduct. In one sense, we can read the words of the document, indeed, we can be educated and have other sophistication, but to conceive of the more profound underlying meanings requires a biblical mindset.
We need to consider an essential underlying factor — biblical faith.
We need the biblical mindset.
So, do we really go back and start over? Do we demand of those who don't understand or have insight into the very real facts of American history and our former dependence upon the Bible?
The answer is "No".
We don't go back because we can't go back. We need to move forward recognizing where we are, whether folks around us are churched or not. I'm going to say something that will get me in trouble with some people. We need to start where we are and do what Christians need to do, first and foremost, that is, become profound students of the Bible. Too many Christians these days are influenced by clergy and lay leaders who teach and preach using their own material, though they claim otherwise with Bibles in their hands.
Too many believers these days have had to say, "I really don't want to be called 'Christian' any more, because too many of those who call themselves Christians fail to apply the principles of the Bible — and I know — none of us is perfect. However, I'm comfortable declaring that I am a serious follower of the Lord Jesus Christ!"
"That's alright with me---you know, I follow Jesus, too!"
Let me share some insights from the Scriptures for this Sunday.
As we turn to Jeremiah 17:9,10 (RSV) "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt, who can understand it? 'I the Lord search the mind and try the heart, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.'"
I cannot tell you how powerful these verses were for me when I finally — really — looked at it and thought deeply about it. I had not thought the Church was correct in saying that human beings were desperately sinful from birth. After all, consider a newborn baby, so sweet, so innocent — but then — if baby doesn't get his or her milk bottle on time, basically, watch out!
It is a truth which — over decades — has never proved false, which means, the Bible speaks the truth within the prophetic voice. This shocking statement in Jeremiah's prophecy, especially, as it applies to me, and with others who are supposed to provide an example for us, makes clear the overriding thing to observe. I can never be disillusioned. Through this verse, the "illusion" is gone forever. We need to be vigilant watching over the "human heart". The Founding Fathers were quite sufficiently schooled in this notion. They knew and understood that humankind without God is destined to fail personally and politically.
Also, a point of transition for me in faith was being "riveted" by Saint Paul's second letter to the first-century Christians at Corinth, in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 15:1-1-58. Go ahead and read the entire chapter. Carefully consider the content.
Personally, I have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I know that He died on the Cross of Calvary for my sins. I know that He has the authority by His suffering and death to forgive, cleanse, and renew me in the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, I know that He rose from the dead, descended into Hades to announce His victory over sin and death, and then ascended into heaven. He will return soon to draw us all unto Him.
What I noticed over the last half-century, as a pastoral counselor, were the large number of people who needed great clarification regarding this particular chapter of the Bible...and how it impacted them and their destiny...
The phrase in verse 14 is pertinent to explain my concern. Here's how it's rendered:"....and if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless, and so is your faith..." (1 Corinthians 15:14)
As I've sat at the bedside of many who were about to leave this world, (and I can think of two memorable conversations) many believers I've counseling with, in preparation for the afterlife, didn't realize how important it was to have come to terms with the issue Saint Paul stresses to the sophisticated members of the mission church in Corinth. Those of course are recorded in the Corinthian manuscript we have.
Paul stressed how "essential" it is to receive the Resurrected Lord Jesus, both with heart and mind..."otherwise you have believed in vain" (verse 2). To many, the death on the cross is all there is to the heart knowledge of our faith in Jesus. The Church needs to reconsider the foundation of what is essential in order to have the assurance of everlasting life.
A person very dear to me confessed not being able to accept the fact of the Resurrection upon the very hour of his death. I invited him (within less than sixty minutes remaining in his life) to receive Jesus as the Resurrected Lord of his life, not as he should, but as he was able. He died with the assurance of faith and, dear friends, I will see him in the sweet by and by.
In short, we need to continue in prayer for all persons and their needs of which we are aware. We need to be more focused in our praying, and expecting God's intervention, simply because we've asked.
On the other hand, despairing because of a nightly encounter with the breakdown of the latest news is never going to essentially change anything. We need to reinvest our lives and fortunes in the Word, taking on a biblical mindset.
Blessings in abundance as we take on the challenges and joys of life with courage, peace of mind, and joy.
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Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough