From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
My dear wife, my sweetie-pie, has loves me after fifty years plus...unbelievable!
As human beings we may stop from time to time, but time itself is relentless. Most of us have spent summer, fall, and Christmas at home this past year, and now in 2021, we are at the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday, lending itself into Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter.
Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021
What is this day all about?
What is the Service of the Imposition of Ashes all about?
We kind of get the gist of Good Friday and Easter, but what about Ash Wednesday? Well, it takes place forty days prior to Holy Week. Now let me check that a minute. Hold on! Yes, sure enough. There are forty days from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday.
The designation of forty days has always provided in the Scriptures a strange extended sense of Divine presence in our midst...we sense something more than change, it's a transition, or a sacred journey, or Godly intervention of huge proportion.
It rained in the narrative of Noah and the Ark for forty days and forty nights. It was God's way of starting the human story over again.
So, too, you and I, as human beings, bound in God through Christ, touched significantly and powerfully by the Holy Spirit, need these symbolic forty days to experience that same sense of God's intervention, holy journey and spiritual renewal. You know, I'm not so much into "spiritual renewal" as I am in Holy Spirit transformation. Spiritual renewal to me sounds much too "churchy".
I need personal transformation. I need the Holy Spirit to take control of my life. Otherwise, I'm much to inclined to do my own thing...and I know what my own thing is! Freedom to me is being "bound up" in Christ Jesus. That may sound like a contradiction in terms, but really, left to my own device, I will certainly imprison myself in one way or another.
Do you know what your own thing is? Go ahead. I won't tell.
Some people end up wondering why Easter...that is...Resurrection Sunday...just doesn't make it for them. Yes, they love the Holy Communion Service on Easter Sunday, but somehow something sure is missing. Human beings like you and me need the traditional time recommended by our Forbearers to experience the transforming power of God in this season of the year. I love it when there is congruency between what is happening inside of me as the things are happening lending themselves into Spring from Winter.
It is because we need to diligently prepare for something momentous to happen in our lives. God is not going to "zap" us without us and our human will being involved. We need to consent to "going out of our way" to receive the greatest blessing we could receive in life. We don't have the ability to just rise up at the last minute on Easter Sunday morning to receive the full benefit of what Resurrection Sunday is all about. We need to allow our special dish to cook and then simmer. God doesn't force religion upon us.
Saint Paul got it right. He could've made a name for himself apart from matters of faith, but there was something inside of him, that made him sit up and notice...that made him seek after God. He became the "young lion" of Judaism. He was smart, he was wise, for everybody's benefit, except his own. He really made a name for himself. He got so religious, he got involved with persecuting the followers of Jesus. He got lost, at first. in religion, but then, he was saved by faith. It took an encounter with Jesus Acts 9:1-19... because he was so hard-headed and intelligent. Sometimes we can be so smart, we're dumb. Please note the words of Jesus,
"...if the light within you is darkness, it is indeed a most profound darkness..."
It's time in the Church that we accept the wisdom of the early Church Fathers and Mothers and those who followed them. That's one good reason to start your journey to Holy Week early this year in the traditional way. There are Lenten guides available, but your best bet is always the Bible...
Die to self.
We need to go ahead, as is dictated by the things we normally proceed to do in the midst of pandemic. We also need do all the important things we have to do, but in the process, observe Ash Wednesday, and the forty days of Lent. It would be excellent, I am thinking, to share it together on zoom, along with Scripture reading, personal comments, and some really "down-home" prayer.
May you be blessed and uplifted this day. The journey begins on Wednesday!
Scripture: John 14:2 King James Version
"In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you."
My beloved dog is about 12 years old. My husband and I are guessing his age. We adopted him a decade ago through a rescue agency when he looked to be about two years old. During this time of working at home, he has been a great companion, and even though right now he is curled up sound asleep on the couch, I find his presence is comforting, and I think he is happy that I am here as well.
Holy One, thank you for showing us the way. Thank you for understanding our fears when we cannot see our way forward. Yet, because of your love, we know we can continue on this journey. We thank you for the beauty that is with us today, and the beauty that awaits us. May we never forget to pay attention to the ways your love is being made known to us. Amen.
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
Gracious Lord, today, as many of us enjoy one of the great American past-times, we'd ask --- as you protect us from the coronavirus, and the other variants from it --- that You protect those who will perform in the Super Bowl today. And as we watch, we know you want us to, and you encourage us to enjoy, sit back for awhile and relax, to be entertained...but let us not become addicted to entertainment and make it the most fulfilling thing in our lives. May we sense a renewed call to service: to your Holy Church, to our neighbors, to strangers in our midst and on our street-corners. For things beyond our control, my we re-learn the powerful means of peaceful prayer...for our beleaguered nation...for our Church leaders...for overseas, especially for the Russian people in this time...these things we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Today is Super Bowl Sunday. Being the son of a Wisconsin high school football coach, I've got memories...
Over and above this, it was simply "excellence in extreme boredom" --- and it thrilled Wisconsin fans. Yes, boring, but precise and perfect. You'd be making a mistake if you didn't give it all you had, your potential, put into action. Play after play, the Packers would mow their opponents down. Although, to some, it was boring, you could hardly expect the Packers to let up or to lose. With Lombardi, a football team wasn't meant to fool you with this "reverse" and that "fake punt". You either did exactly, excuse me, exactly, the way Lombardi told you to maneuver or you sat on the bench.
Even "the Golden Boy" of 50s-60s college and professional football, Paul Hornung who died recently in November, 2020 was benched in a game to his great embarrassment. No player was exempt from playing up to one's potential. You just might have to sit on the bench until, in Lombardi's view, you decided to "play football". Lombardi was tough, but he was completely fair, and very rarely wrong, about his game and his players. He was the ultimate master at the game. Probably more important, he loved his players and he loved their performance. All on the team were convinced of that and played their hearts out for him.
And there was a reason for that.
Let me explain something to you. If a regular person were to shout at you, that would be one thing. If Coach Lombardi were to shout at you, that is, yet, another thing you could not imagine until you'd see some of the old game flicks on television...but note this...
Whether the player was black or white, Lombardi was tough --- and trust me, they wouldn't want him to shout at them, single you out --- but he loved them --- and they implicitly knew that. All players came to believe that they were highly privileged to play for him --- that they were --- and in playing football for him, they learned all they needed to be successful in life as human beings for the rest of their days, at home, and at work.
As an Italian-American raised in Brooklyn, he knew what it felt like to be made fun of, to be overlooked and under-estimated. He suffered it, and hated to see others suffer because of it. Before Green Bay, Wisconsin, that was his lot. Thus, when a player did the job, and lived up to his potential, he was on the team, and became a star. I may be mistaken in this, but Lombardi was the first professional to coach blind to color.
There is something I didn't know about Lombardi.
Vince Lombardi was a genuine Christian from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. He truly loved and respected the Lord Jesus Christ. However, he didn't go to Mass every Sunday. He went to Mass every day. On Super Bowl Sunday, he wouldn't go out on the field until he had received Holy Communion. Dad told me Lombardi should've been canonized as a Roman Catholic Saint. However, the Church claims he never performed two miracles. "That's crazy...", he said. "He performed miracles every Sunday afternoon."
One Sunday when the Packers were playing at home, as usual, Vince Lombardi was in his home church in Green Bay. In those days, during home games, the church was always packed because Lombardi was always worshipping when at home. The priest asked him to tell the congregation the reason for his success. Lombardi got up and told the congregation that one's priorities need to be correct and in order. He continued, "You always need to put God first...Your family second...and the Green Bay Packers third..." The congregation immediately popped up from their pews and cheered...The priest gave the congregation an extra treat, by saying, "...thus endeth the sermon for today..."
Now what does the story about Vince Lombardi have to do with a Sunday message. How could I relate Lombardi's story to the vision and the wisdom of the Scriptures. We can start with the passage in the Bible where Jesus proclaims what the greatest commandment in Holy Scripture is:
"...Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one... love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength..." Deuteronomy 6:4,5
Jesus is asked by the Expert in the Law what the greatest Scripture is in Matthew 22:37: "...love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind..."
Jesus continues with verse 38-40: "...This is the first and greatest commandment...and a second
is like unto it...love your neighbor as yourself...all the Law...and the Prophets hang on these two..."
God came first in Vince Lombardi's life. Family came second for him, and that, we'd have to conclude, included his players. He loved them by pushing them for all they were worth to do their best, and, to do their best consistently. He applied the same wisdom to himself. Nothing fancy=Lombardi.
What if we were to follow that wisdom in the church...[leaving the shouting part out]. You know, there are so many priorities imposed upon folks these days. Christians get caught up in the shuffle. What if we were all...as a team...to put God first in our lives. I mean, really, first. I think you'd agree that being part of a local church family would be greatness, even spectacular...doing nothing more than all we are able do, reaching our potential, for the sake of Christ. Not as a last minute sort of thing,or squeezing time in there, but as a priority...giving God the best we have. Nothing fancy=my church.
That is Vince Lombardi's legacy for the Church of the 21st Century. The game this afternoon will probably be more exciting than prior Super Bowls were, way back then, but the craft of "making excellence in performance seem boring" will never be surpassed in our time. Nor will the depth of love in a coach's heart be more convincing and intense. Yet, Vince Lombardi was far from being a perfect man. Imagine having the coach we have. The Lord Jesus Christ. He doesn't shout, but when we do our very best for Him with all the gifts He's given us, we experience a one time greatness, never again repeated.
Saint Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27: "...don't you know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?...Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training...they do it to get a crown that will not last...but we do it to get a crown that will last forever...therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly...I do not fight like a man beating the air...No, I plummet my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize..."
We are ready, Lord Jesus, to allow you to coach us and guide us to greatness.
We surrender to your guidance. Thank you for loving us as You do. Thank you for shedding your blood that we can be made whole.
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
May each of you know God's grace and peace, both in times of challenge and in times of rest. That well is always there for us. Let us remember to pause and quench our thirst.
Scripture: Luke 12:25-27
"Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? If you can’t do such a small thing, why worry about the rest? Notice how the lilies grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these."
When we find ourselves worrying, we learn to pay attention to our thoughts and not let them run amuck and lead us where we may not want to go. When I read this scripture, I envision Jesus looking at the flowers, admiring their beauty, and taking a deep breath. Jesus certainly had concerns. However, he also knew when to pause and pray. May we also learn to pause and simply be in the presence of God and the wonder of it all. When we pause and give thanks, we get a glimpse of eternity, and we know it to be beautiful.
Yesterday I was reminded of the beautiful "How Great Thou Art." Let us close with the first verse of this timeless hymn.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
May the Lord bless and keep us safe in the palm of His hand!
Whatever our circumstances we will start this day giving you the praise and thanks for your Lordship. This morning we pray for our world, our nation, our city, our loved ones, and those in special need. In particular, we pray for those who have lost loved ones due to coronavirus and those who have contracted the virus. We pray for the security and peace of our nation in an extraordinary time. We thank you for your compassion in a world that often seems dangerous, cold, and unthinking. In Jesus, we choose not to be any of those three designations. We rest secure in you, Lord Jesus! Amen.
MOSES HERE SEEMS TO BE SPECIFICALLY ANTICIPATING THE LIFE AND MINISTRY OF JESUS OF NAZARETH
"...The Lord will raise up for you a Prophet like Me from among your own brothers. You must listen to Him.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers...I will put my words in His mouth and
He will tell them everything I command Him..." Deuteronomy 18:15,18
FEAR OF THE LORD IS UNDERSTOOD AS AWESOME RESPECT FOR HIM
"...the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom...all who follow His precepts have good understanding..." Psalm 111:10
THE LORD CALLS US TO FREEDOM, NOT RELIGION, WHEN HE CALLS US TO RECEIVE THE MESSAGE OF JESUS
"...be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak..." 1 Corinthians 8:9
WE ARE READY TO DISCOVER YOUR AUTHORITY, LORD JESUS
"...the people were amazed at Jesus' teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law..." Mark 1:21-28
It was four years ago now...when we left Jerusalem in the south, and heading up to Galilee...after some really excellent shawarma...we arrived in Capernaum. From Peter's house (with a Catholic Church superimposed over the ancient structure) we walked down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I was strangely moved to be standing on the shore where Jesus called out to Peter and Andrew, and then, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, calling them into ministry to be fishers of men.Finally, I stood in the synagogue there, accompanied by Priscilla, my wife, and Ayesha, my oldest daughter, and David Henkin, my son-in-law. It was like "heaven" to me. Seemingly forever, I had taught Bible, and now, to be standing in the very place where Rabbi Jesus taught in the synagogue was just too much for me. I shared a few insights into Scripture with some young people and their advisors as I stood in that place...It was an unexpected "highlight" of my life...
Now, as I turn presently, to the text of the Gospel of Mark in my personal Bible, I note the following...
from Mark 1:21-27..."They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the
synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them
as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law."
I pause for just a moment to consider the meaning of the text. Although I am physically in my office in Pacifica, California, my heart and my mind are right there in Capernaum, not in 2021 A.D., but in 26 A.D., as Jesus speaks (spoke). I have the advantage of the recall knowledge of the text from the eighteenth chapter of Moses' prophecy in Deuteronomy and I am riveted...the Prophet to be "raised up" will be...like unto the Lord...and...like those listening to Jesus. He will have the nature of God, the Almighty... and He will have the nature of a human being. I wonder what else Moses could have meant in the text from Deuteronomy. The suggestion here backs up the theological notion we find in Rabbi Paul's writing and later Christian theologians that this Prophet, the Lord Jesus, is both human and divine.
The text in Mark's Gospel continues, "...He taught them as one who had authority..." Jesus didn't teach like the "teachers of the law". I wonder what the so-called "teachers of the law" were teaching. Was the problem according to Mark, (by the way, a student of Saint Paul as a mentor), that they taught simply that if you do the right thing, you'll be okay, but if you do bad things, you'll be punished...and in essence...so to speak...that's all there was to religion? ...maybe it had something to do with plain old boredom...
On one level it makes sense. However, for all of us, to be totally rational about our lives is unreasonable. We fall short of God's standard. To Saint Paul, that is normal. We sin. And to "continue on in sin" is a self-imposed prison. In like manner, so too, is attempting to be judged trying to live up to God's perfect standard. The Pharisees thought they could. Was Mark thinking more about the Pharisees when he used the term "teachers of the law"? Was Mark thinking that those teachers taught that "human perfection" was the essence of religion. The question becomes...Isn't there something more to our spiritural lives? I think so. Grace. G-R-A-C-E. (God's riches at Christ's expense.) What about this "amazing" thing called grace?
I like the notion of considering that no perfect people are going to heaven...because there really are no perfect people. I like to put that within the context of the God who loves us as we are, but knowing us well, He wants to make sure we live confidently, and eventually end up living with Him in Eternity. Surely, none of us could live up to the seemingly impossible moral standard of practicing Pharisees, because they were so disciplined in their spiritual lives. The problem of that kind of discipled spirituality is that a person focuses on one's self. The "down-side" of Pharisaic lifestyle is (was)...you become the prisoner of your imposed morality. Saint Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:1, "...it is for freedom that Christ has set us free...Stand firm, therefore, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery..."
What happens imprisoned in a sinful lifestyle happens to one imprisoned by rules and regulations. We have been called by Scripture to live as free men and women under God, fully enjoying our lives...
But...there's something else to notice in the text we have in Mark's Gospel. As we read on, Mark 1:23ff, "...just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed of an evil spirit cried out, 'What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are---the Holy One of God!'"
"Jesus sternly said, 'Be quiet! Come out of him!'" The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek."
"The people were all so amazed that they asked each other..."What is this?" (What's going on here? What are we witnessing?) At this point they did not question...the text includes an exclamation point, rather than a question mark..."A new teaching---and with authority! He (Jesus) gives orders to evil spirits and they obey Him..."
News about Him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
The text in Mark's Gospel talks about...A NEW TEACHING AND WITH AUTHORITY...
The idea of religion, faith, spirituality...takes on an entirely different, much more dimensional concept. What is that idea?
1. Religion has to do with being a good person. Religion has to do with keeping in line with obligations, regulations, commandments, etc. Religion has to do with personal and group moral standards. Religion
has to do with maintaining the "status quo", traditions, and "what has been and always will be." In the Bible, it is described in Micah 6:8 in this manner, "He has showed you, O Man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly...and to love mercy...and to walk humbly with your God."
I like it. It blesses me. However, it is nothing more than a moral perspective. The perspective perhaps of the "teachers of the law"...teaching, yes, but without the voice and power of authority...something that takes hold of us...and removes us from the place we've been dwelling in securely, but without excitement, amazement, inspiration, hope, and, anticipation of the good things just around the corner...
At this point, we note a departure. We need to move on up from religion...to what is FAITH...
We need to turn to Hebrews 11:1 for the best definition we have of FAITH... "...now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not yet see..."
In like manner, Religion is somehow necessary, but we need to find ourselves journeying in Faith and not continuing to stand on Religion. Religion has all the trappings of spirituality, but it falls short, i.e., Christianity and the Crusades, Religion and Segregation. The "teachers of the law" know it well. Faith is the essence of genuine indwelling Spirituality. One eventually discovers the difference, but not "The Uninitiated". Religion is spirituality we can observe in symbols of faith, buildings, and implements of worship. Faith is spirituality we cannot see, but as, in the case of Mark's narrative of Jesus' command over the evil spirit, we see the presence of what is deep within...presence, power, and yes, authority. We need to get off the platform and get on the train.
2. We live our practical lives responsibly without thinking our faith lives include elements of the magical. However, on the journey with the chief engineer, Jesus, things start to happen which, at first, surprise us. Later on, incidences involving unexpected intervention, rescue, and shire amazement happen in our lives. We think to ourselves...faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see... and we rediscover as human beings that God is still in the business of intervention and miracles.
If those miracles and interventions don't happen when we expect them, we trust in an ever watchful, powerful, and compassionate God taking care of business in general, and taking care of us lovingly in a way that always goes way beyond our understanding. About this, Saint Paul writes: "...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength..." Philippians 4:11-13
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Blessed assurance to each of you as we journey into February. You are in our prayers. If there is a specific prayer you want us to hold, please drop me a note or give me a call.
Those of you who are familiar with the hymn, "Blessed Assurance" will see that I changed the word blood to love. As biblical translations evolve, hymn lyrics also change over the decades. I believe Fanny Crosby would understand that these are trying times. Let us set our hearts on love. There we can find the assurance that we need.
Healing is always available to us. It may not appear in the way we are envisioning, but Jesus is always offering us wholeness - to be fully who we are in the body we have. Some years ago, I was talking to a man who shrugged his shoulders and said he did not have to worry about healing anyone since he was not Jesus. It is true that few of us have Jesus' healing touch.
However, we know there is healing in hearing the word yes. That healing can be experienced when we befriend one another, greet one another, and offer to help one another. When we acknowledge one another. When we hear someone asking for assistance, we can usually respond with a yes. Let us remember that we experience Christ in our relationships. Certainly there are times when a no is an appropriate response. Let us remember that in Matthew 5:37 Jesus encourages us to let our yes be yes and our no be no. However, let us be prudent with those times when we respond with a no. Let us affirm and assure one another with a yes whenever we possibly can.
As I was writing this, I kept hearing the wonderful old hymn, "Blessed Assurance". I include the first verse and refrain here.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
THE LORD GOD OF ISRAEL CALL US TO SERVICE TO SAVE PEOPLE
"...when God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion on them...and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened..." Jonah 3:1-5,10
WE CAN DEPEND UPON THE LORD TO COVER US
"...He alone is my rock, and my salvation...He is my fortress...I will not be shaken... My salvation and my honor depend upon God...He is my mighty rock, my refuge..." Psalm 62:6-7 --- A Psalm of David
JESUS CALLS US TO SERVICE TO SAVE PEOPLE--FISHERS OF MEN AND WOMEN
"...As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen...'Come, follow me!' Jesus said, '...and I will make you fishers of men...'" Mark 1:14-20
Dear God, It's our desire to praise you lest we fall into despair over the complexity of living in these confusing days. At times we allow our feelings to so predominate, it clouds our vision of what you want for us. Guide us by your Holy Spirit so that we don't become lost in the shuffle. We pray that the things we think and do will please you--and that we'll have the right attitude. We love you, Lord. At times we lack the perspective, the understanding. We trust you will be there to help us to think and act aright. We commend ourselves into your care that our feelings, sometimes like those Jonah had, do not conflict with your divine plan. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
In these times Nineveh's remains are found on the left side of Tigris River outside of Mosul in Iraq. We remember the City of Mosul from the recent Iraq War. Jonah hated the people of Nineveh because they were cruel to their neighbors and they dominated Israel and had dealt the Hebrews a heavy, heavy hand. The Lord came to Jonah to go and warn the Ninevites, "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because its wickedness has come before me."
The Hebrew people feared and hated the citizens of Nineveh, but the Lord still had compassion on them. Jonah was a prophet, but he was also a Hebrew. In that regard he was no exception among his people.
Jonah packed his bags and headed off...however...not to Nineveh by land...but to Tarshish by sea.
Hold on a minute!
Tarshish is in Spain, not far from Cordoba. (Editor: This is controversial - some think Tarshish was Tartessos was in ancient Spain, Tarshish has also been thought of as Carthage, today's Tunis in Tunisia, and Tarshish in the Lebanon - see Wikipedia). Nineveh was in the opposite direction a three-day walk away from Israel. What was going on there?
Jonah heard the Lord's word to him...he responded...but he chose to respond in disobedience.
So, as people of faith, like Jonah, we hear the Lord speak to us. We respond, but we much too often prefer how we're feeling about things to being obedient to the Godly call upon our lives. We may be even be recognized as a prophet, but still we choose to do our own thing.
Think about this for a while...
Our feelings often have precedence over what God's clear call is for our lives. Jonah ran away in
the exact opposite direction to the place and the people where the Lord wants him to be.
Jonah headed down to Joppa on the coast, found a ship, paid the fare, and sailed off.
The Lord sent "a great wind on the sea" and they were caught in a violent wind. The ship was ready to be torn apart. The sailors on board were afraid and cried out to their gods. They threw cargo overboard to save the ship. Meanwhile, Jonah was sleeping below deck. The crew cast lots and decided that Jonah was cause of the storm. They threw him overboard.
Sometimes God uses even the proclivity of non-believers to be purposeful in our lives in His attempt to carry out His will. Never underestimate other people who make comments regarding our lives. Each and every person God allows in our lives is put there for our good. In Marine Corps "boot camp" we had a staff sergeant who had a habit of using extremely crude language as he shouted at us, day after day. It was awful, but God used him to discipline us and force us to learn how to survive in battle.
Jonah knew he was being disobedient. He was in the wrong place being willfully disobedient to the Lord. "Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you." Jonah 1:12
In New York City in the late 1970s, the Broadway play, entitled, "Jonah" had an extended run. Seeing it was one of the highlights of my life. The play took place in the belly of the whale. The Prophet Jonah from the Hebrew tradition met Oedipus Rex there from the Greek tradition. The upshot of the dialogue between them was this. Jonah as a Hebrew would be redeemed at the end of the play by being vomited out by the whale, but Oedipus Rex would be consigned to condemnation in the belly of the whale until digested.
In Greek thought you pay for your sins; there is no redemption. In Hebrew thought, there is forgiveness,
compassion, and redemption, even though one doesn't deserve it, because of Yahweh's compassion.
For a minute here, I'm going to head over to the New Testament Matthew 12:39 where Jesus talks
about "The Sign of Jonah". A lot of Christians are confused about what this sign is.
What is the "Sign of Jonah"? What is the connection between the unforgettable narrative of Jonah
and the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let's take a look.
That's why Jesus mentions Jonah...that those who would listen to the Word of Salvation might be saved. Years ago, I let this insight pass without recognizing the connection. It's interesting, maybe even a little disgusting, that the image of the great fish vomiting up Jonah is compared by Jesus as, in a sense, similar to Resurrection.
Matthew 12:41 goes on, "...the men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it...for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now, One greater than Jonah is here...". Because of Jonah, and we're ahead of the story here, these people of Nineveh were saved and will be raised up with those saved through the ministry and passion of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a connection between the Jonah story and the Resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament.
Chapter 2 of the Book of Jonah is a prayer in song. Jonah remains alive and rational in the belly of the whale, or great fish, but it's a fearful place to be, obviously a foreboding place--but somehow the faith-principle Jonah possesses, comes forth, "...but You bring my life up from the pit, O Lord, my God...when my life was ebbing away..." vs.6,7 This somehow reminds me of the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1"...now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see...".
We note in Jonah 2:10, "...and the Lord commanded the fish and it vomited Jonah onto dry land..." So, there Jonah finds himself, safe on dry land. What will he do next? How will that eventually affect the feelings he has toward the people of Nineveh? We going to have to wait and see...
Chapter 3 is a big surprise for us. Unlike Saint Paul in the New Testament experiencing lots of opposition trying to get people to repent and accept Jesus in his time, Jonah is amazingly successful.
The Lord approaches Jonah a second time. How many times has the Lord approached you a second or third time? Jonah obeyed the Lord and went to Nineveh. As mentioned, it took him three days to get there. He started to preach immediately, "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned!" Jonah 3:4
What happened? "The Ninevites believed God" Jonah 3:5.
They declared a fast. They put on sackcloth. Even the king arose from his throne, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Everyone in Nineveh was urged to urgently call upon the Lord.
When I first read Jonah I was amazed to read in Jonah 3:10, "...when God saw what they did and how
they turned from their evil ways, God had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction
He had threatened..." Boy, O Boy...I wish I could have that kind of response when I preach in the City
of San Francisco! Much before, in the 70s, I used to take a break on campus at the U.C. Berkeley,
to hear Hubert the Preacher on Sproul Plaza...the way the street people, undergraduates, and even
professors used to make fun of him and shout some of the most horrible things to him...Hubert used to
just keep on preaching...and finish with his standard benediction, "God bless your rotten little hearts!"
That would end with a slight little smile. Folks would come just to here his famous benediction.
By the time we get to Chapter 4, we are amazed with Jonah's response to his success in the Lord.
The text reveals, "...but Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry..."
In the back of Jonah's mind, he was hoping that the Lord in the final analysis was going to "zap" them all. Somehow there was a conviction in the back of Jonah's mind that that was the way things would work
out. He was hoping the Lord was going to do them all in. He was therefore greatly disappointed. He
was mad! He was angry!
However... In a deeper part of himself, Jonah knew that the Lord was "a gracious and compassionate God,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, a God who relents from sending calamity". Job 4:2b
That's why, initially, he had run off to Tarshish in the first place. Deep deep down within, Jonah knew that the Lord would be compassionate to the people he Jonah hated...and after all was said and done... God would go right ahead and relent from doing what He God had threatened.
It was enough for Jonah to want to die, rather than rejoice in what the Lord had done in Nineveh through him...
"Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live..."
So, the Lord questions Jonah..."Have you any right to be angry?" No comment from Jonah. He doesn't reply to the Lord's question. [He is so disappointed, so angry.]
Let's pause for a moment.
Help me here. I've got a question. Is this narrative in the Bible? Really!?!
Jonah goes into the outskirts of the city...hope upon hope...that God's going to change His mind... To Jonah, there's still a chance the Lord is going to wipe Nineveh out. He heads out of town, and, making himself a shelter to keep the intense heat from getting to him, he waits intently to see if the Lord is going to destroy the city. Meanwhile the Lord provides a plant to protect him from the heat. This pleases and comforts Jonah. However, the plant withers in short order because God caused a worm to chew the plant up in the heat. The Lord sends a scorching east wind so distressing that Jonah became faint. We can visualize the situation. We can feel the heat. We can sense the misery.
He really wanted to die at this point. He was so miserable. The original text quotes Jonah: "It would be better for me to die than to live!"
God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"
Jonah replied, "I do...I'm angry enough to die..."
Finally, the Lord said, "...you have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or
make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh, has more than one hundred
and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well..."
"Should I not be concerned about that great city?!?"
The text ends there. We, the readers, are left to ponder. To be absolutely positive about the outcome, we really don't know how Jonah responded to the Lord's question to him. We assume--with the Lord's question--a profound understanding came upon the mind and heart of Jonah...but we don't know that for sure. In one sense, the answer is left in the perplexed minds of you and me, the readers. In a similar fashion in the New Testament, Jesus would present parables and leave His listeners to discuss the unresolved parts of His parables, to such an extent these days, there are several ways to understand or interpret those parables. Jesus was a master at telling stories. Like the parables, discussion of the Jonah narrative remains somewhat unresolved.
So, then, the prophets of the Old Testament were not perfect people, whether they were Jonah, or Micah, Elijah, or indeed, Habakkuk...their sense of purpose in ministry and personal integrity came through the experience of being pressed hard by God, being made ready to provide Godly leadership, and falling into line with God's ways through the tempering of experience...much the same as you and me...
The questions for us, then, as people of faith, is...
Are we going to be so consumed by our feelings of anger, frustration and confusion that we cannot look, for God's sake, beyond them, and consider in compassion the lot of others?
Are we being reasonable and rational about our purpose in existing as spokespersons for God? In addition, are we willing to see beyond reasonableness in caring and daring to live for Christ?
Getting into a discussion of the material in the Old Testament is a powerful enterprise. I sincerely hope you enjoyed the message for today. Please let me know if you had a chance to read it and if you do have the time leave a comment below.
In addition, be sure to follow me on Medium (https://nibbet-27134.medium.com/). You can read my article "The Mindset of Faith in the Book of Habakkuk". Thank you for your kindness in this regard.
May the Lord bless you richly this day! You are loved! Cordially, Tom
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Hello Everyone, I pray that the inauguration gave you encouragement and hope. Yes, there is much work to be done. I also pray that you are feeling confident that God is guiding us all through these times. Continue to pray, knowing that we are praying with you and for you.
A donation of disposable as well as washable masks was recently given to SpiritCare. If your community could use some of these, do let me know.
"There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs."
I have always found this scripture comforting. I am one who believes that the truth will always surface. Therefore, if something is troubling or confusing us, let us have patience. The truth will be made known. God does not hide the information we need.
The truth will be made known. God does not hide the information we need. It may take awhile before it is revealed, but we can trust the steps we need to go through. Usually these steps lead us to a new level of spiritual maturity and a deeper trust in God's ways.
Holy One, teach us to walk the path of Truth and Wisdom. May we always be willing to listen to the voice of Wisdom, for Wisdom's voice is your own. Let us not take that gift for granted. May we not be careless, but rather unwrap this gift with care. Help us to also remember that Wisdom requires us to always listen. May we not speak in haste, but rather discern what Wisdom has to say.
May these words from Proverbs be said of us as well:
"Listen, for I speak things that are correct;
from my lips comes what is right.
My mouth utters the truth;
my lips despise wickedness.
All the words of my mouth are righteous;
nothing in them is twisted or crooked."
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
...a touch of humor here from Mencken...
"Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy." H. L. Mencken
It gets better as we grow in faith despite what we are feeling...it happens when we act as if... "...you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ..." 1 Peter 2:5
"...to awaken something in the heart is greater than giving knowledge and expounding facts..." Anonymous
"...this then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence...whenever our hearts condemn us...God is greater than our hearts...and He knows everything..." 1 John 3:19-20
"I have fallen in love with someone who is hiding inside of you." Hafiz
Lord God, we praise you for what you are doing in the midst of worldwide pandemic, and a diminished economy. You are at work. We affirm it. We pray for all those who have been ill with the coronavirus and their loved ones. We pray for those who grieve because of those who have been lost. We pray for our nation and ask that you swiftly to bring about appropriate order, justice, and peace. We claim it.
In addition, Lord, make us aware of the opportunities we have --- ACTING AS IF. Help us live modestly but well. As we do this, may we be more like you. Show us the way, Lord, how we can think and act in a way pleasing to you. Show us how we can experience genuine, healthy relationships with others and bring many to you? Show us how we can help friends and neighbors? Lead the way. We will follow. Sometimes we need to lean heavily upon your Holy Spirit to show us the way of Christ. We want our lives to be solidly grounded in patience and your wisdom. We want to be examples of the life Jesus lived. In His holy name. Amen.
There are forces at work within us and forces from without. It seems as though, these days, a person can go wrong, having spent an entire life trying to do the right thing. We need to be informed about what's going on. We need to hear both sides of any equation. We need to take time in meditation and prayer to be confident as we make our decisions.
More than any time prior, we need to read and discuss the Bible. We'll never go wrong there. We've arrived at a day and time when the confidence that many Americans have of Christians and their faith has diminished. For many, we are no longer friends, but enemies of the current American dream and enterprise. The Bible suggests that we need to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). I'm inclined to believe this is true.
Presently, we're facing a time unparalleled in American history. We all have our own opinions on what's been going on and what's been happening. Expressing our opinions and feelings doesn't help or matter. Sometimes we share an opinion without thinking, and we're surprised for some reason, it was a big mistake. Some of us have come to realize that our opinion really doesn't matter. What the Bible says, does matter! Today it's my intention to present a topic related to what my seminary professor used to call...
...faking it until you make it...or...acting as if...
God is with us. We're just not going to be deterred. Sometimes we really need to lighten the load and do what must be done. Have you been there? We think and act as if the thing we're facing simply has been taken care of and we're just mopping up---so we can go on with our lives.
Disengaging in life because we are overwhelmed, just seems to make it--not worse--but impossible to overcome. It just seems to "set in" and take over. I've been there. Maybe you've been there, too!
There are many situations which come up where ACTING AS IF --- combined with other tricks of the
trade that come to mind will set the stage for overcoming...
We can love ourselves nonetheless...and then get back in there...
We can be patient with ourselves, disregarding our apprehensions, doubts, and fears...
...until the negatively about motivation catches up with the kind of reality we seek...
ACTING AS IF...is the positive way to overcome our fears, our doubts, our low self-esteem.
As our seminary professor used to say...you don't have to tell everybody what's going on...
just fake it until you make it...
When we're employing this methodology, we're not telling a lie...
We're not being dishonest with ourselves...
We're simply "opening doors" to the positive results needed to complete the work to be done.
Sometimes things come over us...we don't know what it is exactly...but it really holds us back...
ACTING AS IF is more powerful than the negative feelings that hold us back...and it works...
What we are feeling and our current condition is swallowed up...by letting go and letting God.
ACTING AS IF takes us from the insecurity of the shaky present and puts us on solid ground.
When talking about ACTING AS IF, I am talking about how faith in Jesus get us out of the ditch.
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Hope is really not something we can conjure up on our own. We can, however, open our hearts to the hope that is all around us. It is a sacred gift.
Please continue to take good care of yourselves and take some time for rest and recreation. Remember, you are loved and you are being held in prayer. Every day. And every day there is hope for us all.
"The middle of the night
is the beginning of the day.
The middle of need
is the beginning of the light."
A friend recently sent me the first two lines of this quote and asked if I knew the source. Not only did I not know the source, I could find no reference to it on the internet. I passed the inquiry on to another friend who found the first two lines and two additional lines on the Facebook page of a church in Eldred, PA. Their post advised these verses are from "an old carol." I left a post on their page asking if they knew any more about this carol, but so far no response.
Even if I never hear from them, this process of exploration and connection lifted my spirits. This past week has been complicated, disappointing, and even frightening. While I certainly knew that the difficulties we have experienced in 2020 were not going to magically disappear just because our calendars told us the year was over, I was hoping for a little steadier beginning to 2021. I am certain I was not alone in that hope.
I am also reminded that hope is for all people. Let us remember that hope was born in a manger, dunked and raised in a river, and honed in the desert. Those in power would eventually try to annihilate it. Yet, hope could not be extinguished. Hope took the form of Christ and continued to grow.
f we keep our hearts open to these stirrings, we can help nurture hope in those who no longer believe such a thing is possible.
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
"...In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth...now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters..." Genesis 1:1-2
"...the voice of the Lord is over the waters,
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters..."
Psalm 29:3/a Psalm of David
"...weeping may endure for a night...but rejoicing cometh in the morning..." Psalm 30:5b
"...Paul said, 'John's baptism was a baptism of repentance...He told the people to believe in the One
who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus. On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the
Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in
tongues and prophesied..." Acts 19:4-7
"...and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord', except by the Holy Spirit..." 1 Corinthians 12:3b
"...success is how high you bounce after you have hit the bottom..." George Smith Patton, 1910
"...And so John came, baptizing in the wilderness region and preaching a baptism of repentence for
the forgiveness of sin...'I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit'..." Mark 1:4,8
"...a ship in the harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are for..." John A. Shedd, 1859
Please pray with me this morning in light of the events of this past week...
As American citizens, as well as your servants in Christ, we find ourselves in a state of shock after the events of this past week. We may have opposing political preferences and personal views that vary, but we're all united in feeling astonished and overwhelmed. We confess our confusion as we focus and reflect. We set aside other authoritative directives and allegiances to call upon you to provide direct divine guidance and encouragement for us. We depend upon you. Let your blanket of peace come over our shoulders. As you are the God of perfect justice and mercy we'd ask that your will might be done on earth. You have promised that whatever we ask in Jesus' name, it will be granted. Grant us wisdom, insight and peace in the midst of the tumult. That --- dwelling in informed faith --- is our bottom-line. Your provision for us in the position we all stand is forbearance and compassion. We rejoice in the midst of what we are feeling...because our rock-bottom trust is in you, and you only. We await resolution within your perfect timing. We patiently trust in the answers you will provide giving us assurance. In Jesus' name,
Marcel Proust (1185-1922) once said, "Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it's grief that develops the powers of the mind." I like this statement. It's really true. When we're happy, I believe, it is good for our physical bodies. But "happy" is not the only thing we need. We need "times that try our souls" and cause us to stop and think. The Bible teaches us to learn how to bear difficulties and to overcome. We need to pay attention to it's teaching and prepare our hearts and bodies for what is to come, armed with Scripture.
I also like the humorous question, "Did you know that no perfect people are going to heaven?" And then, the comment, in answer, "Yah, because there ain't no perfect people!" When we unite our lives with Christ, we commit ourselves to the truth. Whatever happens, we can handle it. Wait! Correction! We can handle having been covered with Christ. We can bear and believe all things through Christ who gives us strength. I mean that especially within what we have witnessed this past week:
"...I can do everything through Him who gives me strength..." Philippians 4:13
We need to establish, if we haven't already, a personal relationship with Jesus. If you haven't done so before, it would be a good idea to do it now...just go ahead, read, reflect and say this prayer...
"Dear Jesus. I turn from my own way, and in repentance, I freely choose to follow you. Forgive me all my sins. I accept you as my personal Lord and Savior. I know that you died for my sins on the cross and if I accept, as I do, that you rose from the dead, I will inherit eternal life. Help me to be an useful member of your eternal family as I walk with you day by day. Guide me as I seek to be more like you with each passing day. Thank you, Jesus, for coming to earth to redeem a person like me. Amen."
Some years back one of our more profound Christian thinkers, and I can't remember now who it was, said that too many of our churches proclaim what he called, "A Theology of Glory". What he meant by that, was this. God doesn't give us the reward that may come first to our minds and hearts when we place our confidence in Him. We aren't guaranteed the new Mercedes Benz, or the brand-new three-bedroom-two bathroom home with the pool in back, when we receive Christ Jesus in our lives.
However, I've just now made a count of fifty mega-church preachers, all making from twenty-million dollars a year to one individual who has accumulated one-hundred-and-seventy-six million dollars in his career. To some extent or the other these men and women preach...just that...if you commit your life --- AND your pocket-book --- to the Lord, you will be blessed with earthly prosperity. A comment followed the list of some of these preachers stating that these were among the "most successful clergy" in the nation. Hmm!? Successful? I cannot identify with the statement or its association with the accumuled wealth or with the preachers themselves.
We need to remember that healthy Christianity involves that sacred dialogue which takes place between the very real world we live in and the powerful faith that sustains us...that saves us...bringing us spiritual and emotional completeness. We get better and better at living. That is the basic tenant in the theological thinking of Martin Luther. At the same time, may we all be spared from taking such extreme positions that we act out in a way that is disgraceful and dangerous to ourselves and others.
I have one thing to say about that --- Lord, have mercy upon us!
Let us not distain the role of compassionate and common-sense faith in the Lord Jesus. We remember the extremely Christlike...the extremely compassionate stewardship of German citizen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, under Adolph Hitler during the Nazi years in Germany, especially during the Second World War. The power of Christ's message in Bonhoeffer's vulnerability stands out these days "like light in the midst of darkness" as we consider Bonhoeffer's time. The Catholic church and the Lutheran church in Germany during the 1930s completely submitted to Nazi policies regarding religion. It was only the "personal faith" Bonhoeffer possessed in the Lord Jesus Christ that provided the consistency of righteousness. With all the stories that have come out of World War II, the testimony of Bonhoeffer rises above them all. Upon being executed, the prison guard in grief apologized for the injustice of Bonhoeffer's impending demise... Bonhoeffer's reply to the German soldier and guard was, "...don't grieve, my friend, you send me to my God..."
It is our faith in Christ Jesus and His saving power for our fallen world...the one we've experienced this past week...that will provide the confidence we need to know...heart, soul, and mind...that we are exactly where God wants us to be and exactly where we know we need to be. All else takes a back-seat! Through it all, we remain optimistic though realistic, patient and yet confident, faithful in the One who will never forsake us --- only confirm the solid faith we have placed in God Almighty, rather than men.
All the institutions of humankind, the most trustworthy of human beings, the most reliable of human institutions cannot compare to the faithfulness and protection of the Lord. We will walk confidently in Him, and with Him. We will not believe religious mythologies. We will not succumb to the alluring ideologies of the age. The God of the Bible has made our way in Christ Jesus plain and simple. We are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our might and let the mighty and comforting blessings from that sincere devotion flow into a cold, shallow, and hostile world transforming all that is. Lord God, put your hedge of protection around us in these days. Amen.
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Goodness, what a time we are living in. Yet, let us have courage. We really are in this together. I talked to a few of you this week, and it was wonderful to hear your voices. I hope to speak with all of you in the next week or so. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to give me a call if there is a way I, or the Board of SpiritCare, can assist your community.
It is easy to lose confidence as we grow older. We can convince ourselves that people do not really care where we have come from, and at times we may not know where we are headed. Such uncertainty can interfere with our confidence. We worry we may not be headed anywhere.
Yet, it is in these doubts where our faith helps provide the mortar to fill in the gaps and strengthen our core structure. It is my prayer that we all remember that we are God's children. We belong. Our journey is to continue in faith, learning as we go, serving one another by encouraging one another. This is how we find meaning in our lives. Jesus knew he was headed for the cross, but in his three years of ministry he accomplished much. We, too, know that our physical bodies will eventually perish. Yet, because of love, we walk in the light. We walk in the light that is Christ. People of other faiths will describe such love differently. No worries. Ultimately, there is only one God and one Love. I call that Love, Christ. Yet, we know our words will always fall short so we do not cling to them. However, love never falls short. Why? Because while our physical bodies die, we have the inextinguishable gifts of love and light. Such gifts cannot be destroyed, not in this life, nor in the continuing life to come. Where do we come from? God. Where are we going? The answer is the same. Let us put our doubts aside. As the saying goes, let us stop worrying and start living. Let us claim this life that we have as the holy temple that it is. God is always with us. How can you then be anything else but the light of the world? Please, rise and shine, confident in all your comings and goings, being love in this world. Thank you!
I leave you with Psalm 36:7-9
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Season of Christmas approaching Epiphany, January 6th
"..now the Lord is the Spirit...and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom...and we, who
with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory are being transformed into His likeness with every
increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit..." 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
"...to bestow upon them a crown of beauty, instead of ashes...the oil of gladness, instead of mourning...
and a garment of praise, instead of a spirit of despair...they will be called oaks of righteousness...
a planting of the Lord...for the display of His splendor..." Isaiah 61:3
"...trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding...in all of your ways
acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight...don't be wise in your own eyes,
revere the Lord and shun evil...this will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones..." Proverbs 3:5-8
"...but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength...they will soar on wings like eagles...
they will run and not grow weary...they will walk and not faint..." Isaiah 40:31
"...I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts..." Jeremiah 31:33b
"...delight yourself in the Lord...and He will give you the desire of your heart...commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him, and He will do this...He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn...the justice of your
cause like the noonday sun...be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him..." Psalm 37:4-7a
"...forget the former things, don't dwell on the past...Behold, I am doing a new thing...Now it springs up! Don't you perceive it? I am making a way in wilderness...and steams in the desert..." Isaiah 43:18-20
"...let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness
out of reverence for God..." 2 Corinthians 7:1
"...therefore, if anyone is in Christ...that person is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come..."
2 Corinthians 5:17
Gracious God and Lord,
You are light and life to us. We confess that we're all too often attracted to lesser sources of so-called light that eventually become a source of darkness for us. We're sorry we get lost. We're just all too human at times, and we're glad that You became a human being through Christ Jesus, your beloved Son, to deeply empathize with our condition. Forgive us our sin and uplift us by your Holy Spirit in these days. In Jesus, Amen.
We are being transformed into the likeness of Christ with every increasing glory according to Saint Paul.
Please note: transformed into the likeness of Christ - with every increasing glory
The new year of 2021 has dawned upon us. For many people it's a time to make resolutions...and like many (most of the time) those resolutions fall through the floor. Personally, I used to make new-year-resolutions, and most (if not all) of those promises to myself ended up as so much dust by mid-January of the same year. How is it that we can know of needs that remain unfulfilled in our lives, and yet, we seem unable to overcome. We're not successful in becoming the person we want to be. You may not have ever thought that God wants you to become what you want to be in your heart. There is something that not many people think about that provides clarity and purpose in that regard.
Who is the fool who said that life is simple? Not me. However we can simplify our lives...we can be guided in our lives in such a manner that what we experience daily is pure joy, instead of the heaviness of an unnecessary burden making life a drag...that is to say...the joy of living our life on a daily basis with the knowledge that we're on the right track and that we'll accomplish all that is precious and life-giving for us.
"...do not lose heart..." 2 Corinthians 4:1--- 2 Corinthians 4:16
It's the intention of this message to combine resolving problem areas that often cling tenaciously to us and...the meaning of Epiphany, the phenomenon of brilliant starlight over the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth upon the arrival of the Wise Men (Magi) in Bethlehem.
We really don't know for sure, but the common misconception is that the Wise Men were three in number, one being brown, one being black, and one being Asian. We don't really know if there were only three of them. We do know they brought three gifts. I'm convinced the Wise Men were actually Hebrews whose ancestors had chosen not to return to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah in the Sixth-Century before the birth of Jesus...they knew the Scriptures, i.e., the Savior would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)...a bright star would appear upon His birth (Numbers 14:17)...He would be despised and rejected by men (Isaiah 53:3)...that a new covenant (Divine Agreement) would be made with God's people through Him (Jeremiah 31:31). Though Hebrews, they would not be considered Jews.
The Magi did things in a way important for us to consider as we trust that the Lord will save us from unnecessary routes and dead-ends in life. We can save ourselves the grief of things in life we can well do without, freeing us up to enjoy the fullness of "new spiritual life" promised us in Scripture.
First of all, the Wise Men made themselves available to visit the Christ Child at great inconvenience...by setting aside their important normal schedule to be present...as a matter of fact... way over there...hundreds of miles (on camels, not automobiles) to be able to say they saw the Savior predicted in Scripture. This notion of "inconvenience" for the sake of serving God is what is called "HOLINESS". When we step out of our way inconveniently to seek God and to serve Him...that is to understand "holiness". When it's convenient for us to nominally be connected with a church, or if we think we're a true believer because it's a family tradition, we are only fooling ourselves. Christ Jesus suffered terribly and died on the cross of Calvary for us. It was not convenient for Him to do so. His holiness becomes newly discovered by us in the fact that He manifestly inconvenienced Himself. As Jesus manifestly inconvenienced Himself...to really follow Jesus we must do the same. We also need to go to Bethlehem to experience firsthand Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child--in our hearts. We need to make the journey.
When was the last time we inconvenienced ourselves to serve the Lord?
I mean really went out of our way...
KNOWLEDGE OF THE SCRIPTURES
Time and time again, I hear folks suggest that they read their Bibles by themselves. That seems to be sufficient for them. But I continue to want to ask the question..."Do you really know what you're reading?" Or, I might say, "Don't questions arise in your mind about 'faith-issues' or 'personal conduct' that remain unanswered?" People have the tendency, I've learned, to interpret the Scriptures in terms of their life experiences without the advantage of having another individual present a different point-of-view about what Scripture means. In too many of our churches, on the other hand, non-biblical activities take precedence over communal worship and interactive fellowship afterward, with questions asked and answered. We can't do whatever we please when we get together to honor Christ. Sunday morning should exemplify the peace and joy we have in the biblical Jesus. The focus should always be based
on reconciliation, forgiveness for all, new insights on how to live fully in Christ. I have been accused of suggesting that the church is not a country-club for saints, but rather, a hospital for sinners. In recent years, the expression has been floating around, "Wise Men Still Seek Him!" Jesus needs to be the center.
THE WISE MEN CAME TO GIVE AND NOT RECEIVE GIFTS
The Wise Men brought precious gifts to present to the Messiah. The gifts were precious. Are we giving our best unto the Lord...or are we giving "left-overs"? The gifts Maji were well-thought-out and appropriate...they were gifts of gold (for a king), frankincense (for a God)...and myrrh...just to say...the Wise Men knew that Jesus was born to die...they had read all of Isaiah 53...with understanding...
When we take a look at our schedule in advance for 2021...and put God first...we receive blessing we haven't received prior. This is a real challenge in the midst of our present pandemic...and what it's done to our economy. We need to start now in the teaching aspect of the "holiness of giving" in order that, at the proper time, we've made significant progress toward our goal. Mental acceptance of the biblical giving principle is essential to true faith. It's appropriate this Sunday to identify it with the Epiphany model. The Wise Men sought the Christ Child and gave Him gifts of substance. We need to follow their example.
NO ONE CAN TELL US WHAT TO DO
We need to be schooled in terms of what biblical giving is. We need to be convinced that we'll be blessed when we step forward in faith with a positive attitude. Biblical giving is so essential that, without it, that "transformation" cannot take place so it's really a part of us. It needs to come from within. Allowing negative thoughts to smolder within us as resentment will poison us. It's not going to work if it's something "we have to do"...forcing ourselves to give generously will make us prisoners, rather than free men and women God promised we'd be under Christ. Blessing comes when we follow Christ without mumbling under our breath.
GIVING GENEROUSLY IS NOT JUST A MONEY MATTER
When we go way out of our way to minister to others we inconvenience ourselves and truly step into the true, spiritual realm of Christ Jesus. When was the last time you said something or did something good for somebody else expecting to receive nothing in return, knowing that God rewards a cheerful giver?
THE CONCEPT CANNOT BE FORCED UPON PEOPLE
To summarize, the question before both you and me in 2021, is putting the Lord first in our giving. The first 10%, the tithe, is what we give up-front to the Lord (Leviticus 27:30). The first 10% belongs to the Lord according to the Scriptures. That amount off the top doesn't belong to us. After we've given the tithe off the top, our own free-will giving begins. Think about that for awhile. If we give to the local food-bank, and we haven't given the Lord the tithe, that kind of financial planning and thinking isn't biblical. Can we do that immediately if we haven't done it in the past? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Just don't feel guilty about not being able to do so at the present time. You'll reach the Bible standard eventually..in God's good time. You work toward it gradually. The Lord will work with you on it...and it will bless you in the process. If you haven't done it, you will be surprised how good it works. I've found that it usually takes some time to get up to the Bible standard, but it can be done in time with discipline. Priscilla and I got there gradually. One needs to avoid feelings of guilt, or even anger if somebody...like this pastor...encourages the Bible standard. Faithful families, faithful women and men, have followed the wisdom of tithing in the Scriptures for centuries and it has always brought increased happiness and fulfillment. Don't knock it, if you haven't tried it!
Can we achieve Christian freedom in giving if we feel we are forced to give the way the Bible suggests?
A person has to do it voluntarily knowing "...Christ Dwelling Within..." will bring success. One has to start from the beginning humbly. One has to do so without negative feelings about being forced to do it. In the world they say, "...don't follow the comments, follow the money..." We know that the Lord will have done a great work within us when we achieve the tithing goal...only the Holy Spirit can make this to happen.
Eventually you will succeed and say with so many...I can't believe what a blessing it is!
Your church fellowship will be blessed as this happens in each believer's life...in my view, this discipline
should never be pushed as a church project to reach a congregational financial goal. It's a Bible mandate
for us. Each Christian should seriously take this to heart as an essential personal discipline.
THE WISE MEN CAME TO WORSHIP
The Wise Men weren't of a "servant class" socially. They were leaders in their nation, they were men of great distinction, of great learning, scholars, masters in their various disciplines. We note that they were knowledgeable of the Hebrew Scriptures. They knew what their journey was for. They knew who they were to see...the desire of the ages. Matthew 2:11, describes what happened to them when they saw Jesus with his mother, Mary. Hold on for a minute...they...bowed down and worshipped Him.
First of all, they went way out of their way to see Him. They brought precious gifts to give to Him. Though these Wise Men were distinguished and honored in their land, they emptied and humbled themselves to bow down before the Child. They knew they were seeing the face of God in the face of the Baby Jesus. You know, wise men and wise women still seek Him!
Are we more sophisticated than the Wise Men? Has the value of seeking and finding Christ diminished through the years because of progress through the ages. Do we have more wisdom than the Wise Men because of our post-modern technology? Let me tell you. These men were advanced in their learning.
Do we have the same profound sense of the holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ? Or do we take Him for granted? Can we do without worship...or is worship at the center of all that holds things together for us? Yes, when some sort of normality returns to us, dear people, we'll appreciate being in worship publicly.
Where is our sense of awe? Hopefully we haven't been so "awe-struck" by post-modern technology that our smart-phones and computers are the only incentive for us to be amazed these days. The great Jewish Rabbi Abraham Jacob Heschel once said, "In his day, King Solomon asked for wisdom...In my day, I ask the Lord for a sense of awe in the ordinary things and in the holiness of God..."
So, Epiphany, the festival of divine light to cover the darkness of this world, is right around the corner. Lord God, we're ready to receive it. Thank you for your grace and the light you provide for the way. Help us to understand how important it is for us to be generous, kind, and good. But, setting all else aside, we are grateful for having provided the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus, your beloved Son.
Know and understand your Scriptures...
Go out of your way to seek Him and serve Him...
Provide with Him with gifts of substance...
Worship Him with all of your heart, body, and soul...
The Lord bless you and keep you!
From Rev Sue Ann Yarbrough
Blessings of healing and wholeness to each of you today, and long into the future. Let us go forward with courage, knowing that if we can love, we are following the Christ Light. As long as we love, we cannot be lost. We of SpiritCare realize your work has often been difficult this year. You have our deep gratitude and respect. Thank you.
Like much of life, not all of the text of Jeremiah is so wonderfully encouraging as the passage above. Yet, Jeremiah, born sometime around 650 BCE, believed that God was instructing him to tell the people in exile to take root where they were. Not only to take root, but to build a life and to thrive. He knew that God would be with them and could be found through prayer and honest heart felt seeking.
I believe this is good advice for all of us as we move into 2021. Let us remember that God is with us, and his presence can be known to us. I do not believe in a punishing God, but a God who has created us to learn and mature in our difficulties and troubling times. If we try to avoid the difficulties, we cannot grow.
Blessings of hope and peace in the year 2021, and always.
Holy and Eternal God, we thank you for guiding us through these times. We thank you for never abandoning us, even when our hearts go astray. Yes, at times we get frustrated, even angry, and we try to turn away from you and from life. Yet, you are present within us and all around us. We cannot turn away. It is impossible. Nowhere can we go that you are not there. Help us, therefore to have the courage to face what we need to face, and to move through what we need to move through. Help us to trust this life. Thank you for your wondrous, steadfast love. Thank you for teaching us how to love. May we take these lessons to heart, and respond likewise.
In gratitude we pray. Amen
Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough, Associate Pastor
San Lorenzo Community Church, United Church of Christ
From Rev Dr Tom Nibbe
Gracious Lord, we are grateful for the message that you came in Christ Jesus long ago to save us from our sins and assure us that you can well understand our suffering and difficult days, because through Christ, you took on human flesh and therefore you are able to empathize with our humanity. We praise you for Christ's example and life and acknowledge His greatness as we depend upon your grace. In His name. Amen.
"...He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord
His God, and they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth, and He will
be their shalom..." Micah 5:4-5 [from the 7th Century before Jesus of Nazareth]
"...so Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the City of David,
because he belonged to the house and line of David...he went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child...while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son...she wrapped him in swaddling cloths and placed Him in
a manger, because thee was no room for them in the inn..." Luke 2:4-7 [seven centuries later]
It had been rainy and really cold outside. As Joseph and Mary sat on somewhat uncomfortable bales of hay, reflecting upon the events of the last several months, and in particular, the last several days, they wondered if there might be an accommodation available in Bethlehem, that they could afford. It had been a long and difficult trek to Bethlehem. To add to that, my goodness, Jesus was already two days along in this world and the parents needed a more fitting place to take care of him. After all, they had traveled on foot the entire distance. Thank God that Mary was quite young, being nine months pregnant, and walking the whole way. It must have been extremely trying and uncomfortable. The place where they were just was not appropriate.
Joseph and Mary had no idea that the Emperor Augustus was part of God's plan to fulfill His Word in Scripture, namely, in the Prophet Micah 5:2, "...but you, Bethlehem (the walled city), though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me 'One' who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times..."
The angel who greeted young Mary in the grotto, up there eighty miles away in Nazareth, said the child Mary would give birth to, would be called "the Son of the Most High" and that He would "reign over the House of Jacob forever" and, indeed, that "His kingdom would never end". She was to call him, yes, "Ya'shua", that is to say, Jesus. It seemed hard to believe that a boy from such a humble, such a poor family, would become so great a man. It would have been impossible for both Mary and Joseph to believe these things, had it not been for the glorious appearance of Gabriel.
First, the Angel Gabriel told Mary that she would become pregnant by the divine power of the Holy Spirit, and then, when Joseph reacted quite reasonably, to put her away quietly---after what Mary related to him what was going to happen---he really couldn't believe what Mary shared, even though he wanted to. I mean, after all, who would? Your girl-friend tells you that God made her pregnant. Who would swallow that one? ...maybe somebody at the movies...
Gabriel had to get back to Joseph to give him the news. It was for real. She was pregnant by supernatural means. She would give birth to a very, very special child. He would be the guardian of that child. His lineage would be essential in this regard. Through Joseph's blood line, the child would inherit the throne of King David, His ancestor, who had ruled a thousand years before in Israel. Yes, poor unheralded Joseph was of David's royal line. This would fulfill the prophesy of 1 Samuel 7:12,16: "...when your days are over, David, and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your descendent to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish His kingdom...your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me...your throne will be established forever..." In retrospect, this became fact through the Christian Church that Jesus would eventually establish through His disciples thirty-three years later.
There is an image that comes to mind that seems significant for those of us who enjoy considering huge contrasts, inconsistencies if you will, in the way we look at things. To think for an extended moment of the Co-Creator of the entire Universe, our solar System, the "black holes in space", and the vastness of all else that is out there, in the arms of a teenage girl, woman if you prefer, solely dependent upon her for his very sustenance. It is a powerful notion. It speaks to the responsibility God places into our hands as we take care of His kingdom here on earth. Imagine how important we are in terms of salvation and service.
All of a sudden, putting everything together, we get the impression that Jesus was not a last-minute thought in the mind of God the Father. As we continue to get deeper into the Scriptures we note something like over six-hundred different references in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) to the life and ministry of this child, Jesus of Nazareth.
One portion of that body of literature is especially meaningful when we come to realize that it was written
seven hundred years before the event we're talking about this morning, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
Here's the passage from the four "Servant Chapters" of Isaiah 42, 43, 49 and 53, especially Isaiah 53:
"...He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted...just as there were many who were appalled at Him,
His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man, and His form marred beyond human likeness,
so will He sprinkle many nations..." Isaiah 52:13-15a
"...He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering...like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we didn't give Him a lift..." verse 3
"...surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considering Him---stricken by God---smitten by God, and afflicted, but He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brings us peace (shalom) was put upon Him, and by His wounds, we are healed..."
"...though He had done no violence nor was any deciet in His mouth, yet it was the Lord's will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer..." verse 9b,10
"...after the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life, and find satisfaction...by His knowledge... my 'righteous servant' will justify many and He will bear their iniquities..." verse 11
The purpose in Jesus' birth is that He would become Emmanuel, that is, "God with us"...not God up there in the sky somewhere...but God "present" right there with us...God with us in the midst of personal suffering, experiencing loss of loved ones, of being paralyzed by fear, in some of the pathetic and sad situations of life, and of physical pain. We are put on notice. We will need to bear the Cross at times. Christ's job is to go there with us. Pain and suffering is part of the journey.
When we experience pain, we don't need to think that we are going through something that God has not gone through, or experienced. Through the birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ God, our Creator, is able to empathize with us in the valleys of life...as well as being there with us as we celebrate life. In a strange and wonderful way, our walk with God as our divine companion is made complete through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He is our Emmanuel.
...Jesus was born in Bethlehem to die on the cross in Jerusalem...
Messages from our SpiritCare Pastors