If you have ever had the privilege of being in a school cafeteria with elementary students at lunch time, you know that quiet is not a good description of the environment. There is a lot of chatter, laughing, and screaming which takes place. Any attempt to reduce the level of sound is an endless effort. Most of the time a reduction or, on a rare occasion, relief, is a short lived success.There is just too much energy.
The passage read for today comes from Luke’s account of the palm procession which we commemorate each year on Palm Sunday. Jesus enters Jerusalem to prepare for the upcoming Passover celebrations. His entry is noticed by crowds and the Jewish religious leaders. Luke records that the disciples begin to make a lot of sound as they praise God for the miracles performed by Jesus. This exuberant display prompts the Jewish leaders to ask Jesus to tell the crowd to be silent. Jesus explains that even if he could accommodate their request, the sound would come from other elements of the world. The crowd on that day is like the elementary students at lunch time, full of unabated energy.
Reading this passage causes one to wonder if the level of enthusiasm and energy which one has for the Lord is similar to what is here described. Would anyone say that they witness such loud sounds of praise from us? If a person entered our worship setting, would they report the observation that nothing can quiet our praise? What about our personal display of praise for the Lord? We need to be as boisterous and full of energy when it comes to giving thanks and witness to our Lord as school children are in the cafeteria every day.
One of the challenging lessons for parents to teach their children is not to succumb to peer pressure. This is a lesson which must be learned because throughout our entire life we will encounter people who try to pressure us into a variety of actions and situations. There are also times when we pressure ourselves to conform to the desires and priorities of others. A person needs to learn to stand for their own convictions and beliefs while being open to learning from the perceptions of others and possibly adjusting when appropriate.
The followers of Jesus are trying to understand what it means to continue to follow even though Jesus is no longer physically present. Meanwhile, The Jewish leadership is trying to eliminate any further following of Jesus. The leaders in Jerusalem had instructed the apostles to cease doing acts in Jesus’s name or share his teachings with others. Yet the apostles continued to do as Jesus had told them to do. In today’s passage the apostles are brought before the leadership to answer for their disobedience. The apostles tell the leaders that they cannot and will not succumb to the pressure of the leadership. They declare that they must do what Jesus, who spoke God’s instructions, told them. The Holy Spirit has affirmed this to them.
We are to be like the apostles in what we read here. There are people who tell us to not speak of Jesus. We are told to no longer share the stories of Jesus and how Jesus has worked in our lives. Some mock us when we attribute the works of compassion, mercy and grace which we perform in the name of the Lord. Our faith, beliefs, and understandings of the Lord should be kept private so we make no one uncomfortable is what we are told. The apostles tell us in this passage not to let peer pressure stop us from doing as God instructs. We are to have the courage to stand by our convictions and beliefs. Let us pray that we will follow the example of the apostles.
As a person ages, it becomes important to make the effort to learn about all the new discoveries, tools, and culture in the world around. We all know of individuals who choose not to learn about computers, social networking, and/or other new technologies. Often, their excuse is that they are too old to learn. This excuse is so far from the truth. No matter what one’s age may be, there is always the capacity to learn. Instead, the person has consciously made the choice not to learn or engage. This choice limits their interaction with the world and people around them. If they had never been introduced to these new ways, then the choice was never afforded them but once they have been introduced, the choice is fully their own.
In the letter to the Roman believers, we read of a similar situation. The writer is speaking of being justified through belief in Christ’s salvific actions. The promise put forward is all have the potential to be saved from our own sinful ways if one will call on the Lord for salvation. Then the writer puts forth a challenge. Through a series of questions, an importance is placed upon the need for all to have the opportunity to hear of Christ’s saving action so they may believe in it. The challenge is for believers to tell this good news to others.
As believers in Christ today, we are given the same challenge which the Roman believers received in the first century. There are people who have heard nothing about Jesus’s saving actions. There are people who have been given misinformation which causes them to have incorrect perceptions. We are the ones who have been sent by Jesus (see Matthew 28:18-20). Our feet are those beautiful feet of which Scripture speaks. Each, in our own way, share how Jesus’s actions have had an impact. Then we inform those with whom we share the news that Jesus’s actions were for them as well. Whether we use words, life examples, stories, our actions, or a combination of any and all these, we share.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20b, NIV)
We never know when our situation in life will suddenly change. A car accident may occur and our life is altered in countless ways. Our routine check up at our doctor’s office may result in the discovery of an illness which will require us to battle immensely. We may be asked into our supervisor’s office to discover that our position is being eliminated. An alarm awakens us in the night and after exiting our home, we watch firefighters work hard to save the house but the wind fuels the flames. All of these life-changing experiences, and more of greater and lesser magnitude, create a time of storm in our lives.
In the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel, a song which became a hit on its own was, You’ll Never Walk Alone. In the musical the song is sung twice. The first time is when the male lead, Billy Bigelow, dies and the female lead, Julie Jordan, sings it to comfort herself and cousin Nettie finishes it for her. The next time we experience the singing of the song is at the graduation of Billy and Julie’s daughter as the spirit of Billy encourages his daughter and Julie.
This song reminds us of Jesus’s words at the end of Matthew’s gospel. The resurrected Jesus appears to the disciples, commissions them, and then tells them he is always with them. These encouraging words have great value for us when we are facing life’s storms. The storm will not last forever. There is light at the end of the storm. We keep hope in our hearts for we have the promise that Jesus always walks through the storm with us.
For anyone who is familiar with agriculture, gates serve an important purpose if you have livestock. Pastures and feeding lots have fences and gates to keep the animals safe and where they need to be. If you have worked with any livestock, you also know that they can easily escape out of the narrowest of openings but once corralled, seem to have difficulty going back through a wide, open gate.
The passage we read in Matthew’s gospel is in the midst of a number of teachings which Jesus is communicating. He speaks here of gates. He tells those listening the importance of choosing the correct gate. The wide and easy-to-enter-through gate leads to destructive life choices. The gate which is narrow and difficult to find leads to a life of meaning and value. Jesus is teaching about choices.
The choices which we make in our lives clearly have an impact upon the direction our lives take. Sometimes the impact is noticed immediately while other times this is not noticed until after a period of time passes. Heeding Jesus’s teaching means being sure we are not choosing only the easy and quick rewarding option. Instead, Jesus tells us to search for the option which will have a lasting and spirit-building influence upon our lives.
Individuals who have property which is at a different elevation than the property beside it often have to utilize retaining walls. These walls keep the soil contained so it does not erode away. Usually a retaining wall is made of stones or bricks. Over time, and often due to the movement of water, one or more of these stones may move out of place and threaten the integrity of the wall. Each stone is vital for the wall to effectively serve its purpose.
In the passage from 1 Peter, the writer uses the image of stones to communicate our role in exhibiting the grace of our Lord. The chief stone in this demonstration is Jesus who is the cornerstone. Jesus stands as the greatest exhibition of God’s grace. Each of us become stones which build upon the cornerstone.
Understanding this passage in our life begins by realizing our role in the demonstration of grace. Like the stones in a retaining wall, each one of us is vital. With the grace shown through Christ as the base of our display, we add our witness of God’s grace in our lives. Each of these witnesses combine together to create a profound message of the grace of God active in the world.
Be that living stone which demonstrates grace. You are an important part of the beautiful display for others to see.
There are times in a person’s life when memories from our childhood can come flooding back into the mind. Certain experiences or events can trigger those memories. Recently, some events in my life created one of those instances. I was reflecting upon how certain situations fell into place. I had a need for the Lord to intercede in my life and the lives of some individuals who I deeply love. Naturally, this prompted me to engage in a sustained period of frequent and diligent prayer. I turned to family and trusted prayer warriors in my life. While I firmly believe that the Lord always works faithfully in the lives of God’s children, I could have never foreseen the great show of faithfulness which I recently experienced. This led me to remember a song from my childhood.
Growing up in a small, rural community, I had the blessing of being nurtured into the Christian faith by loving people in a small church. Every Sunday morning, children, youth, teachers and the pastor would gather in a basement room for the Sunday School opening. We would sing songs, hear a passage from Scripture, and say a prayer before splitting into our classes by age. One song which we sang frequently is, God is So Good. I would also later sing this song at church camp.
As I considered the Lord’s recent guidance and blessings in my life, the words of this song flooded my mind.
God truly is good and has been extremely good to me. I love God so!
According to Merriam-Webster, epiphany is defined as,” a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way.” Today, Christians in the Western world celebrate Epiphany. The celebration is a time when we recall the three wisemen following the star, the light, to locate the infant Jesus. They saw and understood something in a new way. This day also marks the end of the Christmas season.
In the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, we read about Saul’s experience of epiphany. Saul had been a respected Pharisee who felt called to extinguish the sect of Jesus’s followers. He received permission from the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem to go from city to city in search of followers of Jesus. Saul then would persecute, and at times kill, these discovered followers. Then on the way to Damascus, Saul has an encounter with Jesus and begins to gain a new understanding of the Lord.
When have you seen something in a new light? What epiphanies have you experienced? On this day when we celebrate Epiphany in the Church, reflecting upon the times the Lord has opened your eyes is a meaningful exercise. Like the wisemen who gained new wisdom, like Saul who experienced and understood Jesus differently, you may also see the light and gain a new understanding.
Being heard in the midst of a loud crowd or in a spacious environment can create a challenge for a leader or speaker. In order to overcome this challenge, one might amplify one’s voice by utilizing a megaphone or a microphone, amp and speakers. Another method which has been suggested appears to go contrary to the intended goal…use a quiet voice. This method is akin to the idea of reverse psychology. If individuals in a group see the persons peaking by observing the movement of the mouth, they will quiet themselves and often those around them because they are curious. They want to hear what is being said since it may have some impact on them. They do not want to miss out.
In the reading from1 Kings today, God seems to employ such a tactic with Elijah. God desires to have Elijah’s full attention. Instead of being known in a loud and shattering way such as using a mighty wind, an earthquake or a large fire, God chooses a whisper. This clearly gets Elijah’s attention and Elijah listens intently to God. This is the response which God sought.
There are times when we have a strong desire to hear God. It may be during a time of great fear and stress as Elijah was experiencing. Maybe we are considering a life transition. Whatever the circumstance, we hunger to hear a message from God. Since we know God to be all-powerful, our expectation is that God will show up in some boisterous and dramatic way. We get frustrated when this does not happen and may conclude that God really does not care. However, from Elijah we learn that often God chooses the quiet and gentle way in order to truly get our attention so the message will be heard.
If you are seeking God’s presence and message, maybe you need to stop looking for a loud thunderbolt and instead pay attention to the gentle whispers in your life.
As we come to the close of another year and anticipate a new one, it is right that we should offer praise and thanks to our Lord. No matter what the previous year has held, you are still reading and I am still writing. This is only possible because of the Lord. Our ability to wake up every day for the past 365 mornings is because of the Lord. All of our abilities and our skills find their source in the Lord. Every possession we have, our health, and our mental capacities are due to the giving of the Lord. We have journeyed through another year and are at this point as a blessing from the Lord.
Looking into the new year, the promises of the Lord continue. While we have no idea what this new year may contain for us, we know that the Lord walks through it with us. We can depend on the Lord to lead us if we will follow. The compassion and mercy of the Lord will enrich us every day. The provisions of the Lord will sustain us throughout another year. Most of all, the love of the Lord will surround us every minute of every day in the new year.
I invite you on this New Year’s Eve to pause and say thank you.