There are times in the world when we are reminded about the importance of solidarity. During my lifetime I can name some specific times when national and world solidarity has shone forth. When I was still living at home, I experienced this when there was a profound famine in Africa and the farm economy crisis. As an adult, I witnessed this global unity with AIDS killing thousands, the events of 9/11/2001, and now the Ukrainian crisis. These are times when we realize how much we have in common and the power found in unity to make a meaningful, positive difference. We come to realize that in God we are one.
Here is an updated version of a song which came as a response to the African hunger crisis.
Many in the world make judgments in regard to others by observing what company the individual might keep. Who the person spends time with and interacts with is viewed as determining the type of person the individual might be. You could say that it is assumed if you hang out with people who have certain behavior traits, you clearly have the same behavior traits.
This is definitely the rule of thumb which the Pharisees apply toward Jesus. Since Jesus is hanging around tax collectors and sinners, he must be a traitor to the Jews and participate in all sorts of activities which stand in opposition to God. How far from accurate are their assumptions.
Jesus, as always, takes on the challenge presented by the Pharisees in a direct manner. He indicates that the ones who have the greatest need for healing is his focus. The people with whom he is spending time are the ones who need him the most. They are acknowledging that need by coming to him, seeking mercy and to learn from him. Those who view themselves as not having a need for mercy and what Jesus can teach them, do not come.
Reviewing this interaction between Jesus, tax collectors, sinners and the Pharisees demonstrates for us which group each of us may be a member. Are you in need of mercy and teaching from the Lord? Or do you not have a need for such things? Are you sick and in need of the Great Physician? If you are, then seek out and spend time with the Lord, bring others with similar needs to the Lord with you. Jesus intends to hang out with those who recognize their need for him. We would be wise to do the same.
There is nothing easy about suffering. In fact, most of us strive to reduce our suffering or eliminate it altogether. Not only do we work at reducing personal suffering but some of us work at reducing the suffering of others. When suffering is unavoidable, we seek out and provide comfort. This is what calls individuals, groups and nations into action. Currently, we are uniting in an effort to comfort the people of Ukraine as we witness their suffering each day.
The Apostle Paul was no stranger to suffering. He wrote about it frequently in his letters. He also would tell the people that they too would experience suffering because they followed Jesus. Jesus himself suffered and also told the followers they would suffer because of him.
Paul points out in our passage today that in our suffering, we have a great Comforter. The Lord will, and does, provide comfort whenever we are in the midst of suffering. Paul continues by telling the Corinthians (and us) that by receiving comfort from the Lord, we are equipped to comfort others.
When you experience suffering, call on the Lord who will send you comfort. When you see the suffering of others, provide comfort to them in response to having received the same from the Lord.
People come in and out of our lives regularly. There are some who make a significant impact while others quickly fade from our memory. Some individuals are a part of our lives for a long span of time, but some only interact with us briefly. There are the standouts and the unnoticed. We may view a person as having great value to us and another is seen as contributing little to our lives. The world teaches us how to value another human. We are also taught how we are, or are not, valued by others.
Unlike humans, the Lord places a high value on each one of us. Our value, and the value we have with others, is not dependent upon us. To the world we may look used up and have nothing to contribute. Yet it is the Lord who gives value to each person. By touching our lives, God makes us into the great masterpiece which we were created to be. The touch of the Lord transforms us from a broken, sinful person into a radiant child of the King. Whether our contribution to the world is brief or long, whether we are noticed or remain unnoticed, by God’s amazing power, we are a shining star of humanity.
Wayne Watson sings of this truth in a song, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand,” written by John Kramp based upon a poem by Myrna Brooks Welch. Enjoy listening to this song as you realize that you, and every person you encounter, are a masterpiece of great value when the Lord touches and beautifully plays your life.
If you happen to watch many crime and drama shows, you know that the ultimate goal of the police investigators is to get the perpetrators of a crime to confess. Depending on the show, the tactics used to elicit such a confession varies. If a confession is extracted legally, the wheels of justice can then begin to move forward. Watching such shows, you also know anyone who has committed a crime is usually not eager to confess. People do not wish to take ownership of their wrongs because they fear the punishments which may be forthcoming.
As believers in God, we know the importance of confessing our wrongdoings. The author of Psalm 51 demonstrated the need to confess. Confession is an important step for us as we seek forgiveness and cleansing. The confession in this psalm acknowledges the need for God. Only God is able to wipe clean the negative impact of our sin. God alone is the one who can restore us to our created nature.
As we are currently in the season of Lent, we experience a stronger focus on the value of confession. Perhaps as a spiritual practice for the next week, you may choose to read the words of these verses every day during your prayer time. Pause to consider what you are saying as you read the words outloud or in your thoughts.
Have you ever noticed how frequently there are times in life when we witness or experience something which does not make sense? Occasionally, new insights and understandings will help make sense of these things but not always. A change of perspective might also benefit us as we attempt to unravel the mystery. The reality is that we will never be able to explain everything which we experience in our lives. This is especially true when it comes to God.
The prophet Isaiah relays a message from God to the Israelites and to us. As part of the message, the Lord makes it clear that we will never fully understand all of God’s thoughts and/or actions because they are not akin to human thoughts and actions. There is a mystery pertaining to God because God is spiritual and not human.
How often do we attempt to require God to adhere to human ways? We attempt to explain what the Lord thinks, does and chooses by human understanding. Our attempts to conform God’s reactions and viewpoints to our actions and viewpoints are comical when we examine them. God is much bigger than any one of us, or even all of us combined. The Lord’s insight, knowledge, abilities, and power eclipses any human level possible. Humans are finite while God is infinite. This is a good reality.
Our goal should be to live in and accept the mystery of God. Knowing the Lord is about relationship, not being able to explain. A god who can be explained away is not a god but instead is an overly powerful human. We need a God who is beyond our explanations so we can trust God to do what we cannot.
Today Christians in all parts of the world attend services for Ash Wednesday. This day marks the start of the Lenten season in the Western Church. On this day we remember our mortality and the cause of death, sin. It is a day of reflection, solemnity, and humility. As part of the worship service, the person has ashes placed on their forehead or hand in the shape of a cross to serve as a visual reminder of our sin and death, but also the rescue found in the cross. When the imposition of the ashes takes place, the worship leader often says, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”
When you read the verse for today from Genesis, you see the source of the phrase used on this day. This verse is part of the story of humanity’s choice to ignore God as a first step of disobedience which we refer to as sin. God is explaining to the first humans the consequences of this choice. One of the consequences is death. God indicates we were from the earth and to the earth we will return. Our mortality is the consequence.
While this is an important day to acknowledge our mortality and our sin which has brought it into the human experience, that is not the last word. As I said, today marks the first day of a forty (Sundays are not included in the count.) day journey to the Easter celebration. The Easter celebration reminds us that Christ claimed victory over death and the cause of it, sin. Jesus’s obedience overcame our disobedience. This is why the cross is placed on us as a sign of victory even in the midst of our humble repentance today.
At this time in our world, we are looking to our leaders to speak words of reassurance, to act boldly for peace, and to make decisions which will lead to acts ensuring safety and independent lives for all people. Being a leader during times such as these requires courage, level-headedness, and wisdom extending beyond human norms. The people of the world depend upon our leaders to do what will build up the citizens and end the destruction, human suffering and needless death. Our leaders also need us as much as we need them for different reasons reasons.
In the snippet of Paul’s letter to the believers in Ephesus, we see a leader making a request of the people. Paul encourages the believers to pray in all types of situations. Then he makes a personal request for them to pray for him. His prayer request is that God will provide the words which he uses to make the gospel known. He seeks boldness in his proclamations on behalf of the gospel.
As mentioned above, our leaders need us. Like Paul, they need us to be actively engaged in prayer on their behalf. Prayers for them to speak truths boldly. Prayers for them to act in a manner that brings calm and confidence into a tense-filled situation. Prayers for them to lean on the wisdom which God has provided throughout the ages and still offers today. We need to earnestly pray with and for the leaders of the world, even those who we may view as the source of any and all threats. Now we pray. But after this current crisis passes, our prayers should continue because all leaders need prayer in all situations.