Today in the Western church, we mark this day as a festival day, Sts. Peter and Paul Festival Day. Christians remember two pillars of the early Church. Saint Peter was the apostle which Jesus said the church would be built upon. Saint Paul provided writings which helped the church discover what it meant to live into being the church. Both of these early church leaders looked toward the day when the Kingdom would exist in fullness in the world.
The writer of John’s revelation gives us a glimpse of the scene when Peter and Paul’s expectations come to fruition. The writer speaks of “a new heaven and a new earth.” This is not a redesign of our current temporal existence but instead it is a perfection of everything in and around creation. The imperfect, which came into existence when humanity unlocked sin in the world, is transformed by the full presence of God. The removal of the sea denotes the end of chaos which sin has unleashed on the world. No longer will suffering be a part of creation. A new, perfect way of existing without death is now the reality of the world.
Just as Peter, Paul, and all believers past and present, we eagerly anticipate this perfected reality. We await God dwelling with all of creation absent of any barriers. Our hope resides in the knowledge that in God’s perfect timing this new way of being will be fully experienced.
A saying which one of my instructors stated frequently to my class was, “say what you mean and do what you say.” He was impressing upon us the importance of carrying through on what we say we are going to do. In his view, this was a component of personal integrity. Our integrity is the basis upon which trust can be built.
Jesus wished to impress the importance of following through on expectations when he shared the story of the two sons. In the story one son refuses to do what the father asks but then ends up fulfilling the request. The second son does exactly the opposite. The people before Jesus as he tells the story indicate the first son did what the father wanted. This gives Jesus the opportunity to point out that the Jewish leaders who had questioned his authority are like the second son while those condemned by these leaders were like the first son. They demonstrated integrity and pleased the Father because they repented from their initial error and believed.
This story can be disturbing for any of us who follow the pattern of the second son. How often do we sit in the midst of worship or during our devotion time and commit to the Lord that we are going to follow the Lord’s direction? Maybe we commit to change a behavior or reach out to another in some fashion. Do we carry through with what we say we will do or do we create an excuse not to do so? Are we doing as the Father wants? We must complete what the Lord asks whether we initially accept or reject it. We must do what we say we will do.
There is a fact of human reality which is impossible to overcome-no one can be two places at one time. The limits of our human existence include the inability to be in more than one location at any given time. If you have the need to avoid or be hidden from another person, you may be grateful for this reality since it may help you to escape detection. The flip side of this truth is that when we have a need or desire to be in two different locales at the same time, we must choose because this is impossible for us.
Due to the spiritual nature of God, the human limits of time and place do not apply. God can, and is, everywhere at all times. The psalmist states this in today’s verses. The psalmist affirms that there is nowhere which a person can go, or be, that the Lord is not present.
Realizing that the observation in this psalm is absolutely true carries a mixed dynamic for us. If we feel a need to hide from the Lord (which Adam and Eve once did), we cannot be successful. Our God will be present wherever we may go. The other portion of this dynamic is comforting because for us it means the Lord is always present. We are never alone in facing any aspect of life. God is there, always desiring to provide whatever we may need in the time and place of our existence.
This portion of the ancient song gives us two truths to incorporate in our lives:
Strive always to never have the need to hide from God.
Remember that you are never alone because the Lord is always with you.
Many of us grew up with parents and grandparents who were committed to fairness in gift giving. Whether it was Christmas, birthdays, graduations, or any other opportunity to give a gift, these important people in our lives would strive to make sure that each child or grandchild received equally. As the receiver of the gifts, anytime we failed to see equity in the giving, we may have had a tendency to exclaim that it was unfair.
The fairness of giving and receiving is addressed in the story which Jesus tells in our passage for today. Workers hired early in the day protest the fairness of receiving the same daily wage as those who were hired in the final hours of the work day. The vineyard owner is quick to point out that all the workers received exactly the wage for which they agreed to work. The owner continues by lifting up that it was his money being paid so he had the right to determine the amount as long as it was not lower than the agreed upon amount. Jesus was addressing some of the issues regarding the Jews versus the Gentiles in coming to believe.
This battle of fairness can appear among believers today. People begin believing in the Lord at various points in their lives. There are some who develop a belief early in their lives, maybe because they have been raised in the fellowship of the Church. Others start developing their faith as young adults or even when they reach middle age. Still others may not come to believe until they are facing death. No matter when in life our belief begins, we all receive the fullness of our Lord’s promises fulfilled. In fact we receive this before we even begin to understand our belief. The grace given to all is the Lord’s to give. Instead of crying foul when a new believer accepts the gift of grace and promises fulfilled, we should celebrate.
There are people who relish quiet. Other people become uneasy when there is prolonged silence. A majority of individuals fall somewhere in the middle when it comes to a comfort level with quietness. I have discovered that time has changed my desires for silence. As I have aged, I covet quiet much more frequently than I did in my younger years.
Wherever you may currently fall in the quietness spectrum, there is a need to have mindful quiet time in our relationship with the Lord. During periods of silence we are given an opportunity of hearing the voice of our God. We have the chance to consider the magnitude of the One who created us.
Today’s passage is a message for us in our busy and noise-filled lives. We are invited by the words of the psalmist to be still and quiet. In this period of noise-free inactivity, we may come to know more of the nature of the Lord. We can be reminded of the love of the One who is in control.
Take time to deliberately be still and know that God is God.
We live in a world where our accomplishments, status, background, and experiences define who we are in life. The lesson which is frequently taught, starting at a young age, is that we are the only ones who can make a name for ourselves. Each of us has a longing to be known. This longing drives us to expend a lot of energy and resources to establish our name among our peers.
There is one with whom we do not have to make our name known. In fact, none of our accomplishments, efforts, status or anything else can establish our identity with this one being. God knows who we are even better than we know ourselves. Our true identity is found not in ourselves but in the Lord. Because we are known by God, we receive so much love and care from our Lord. When we remember that as a child of God, we are known, loved and have full acceptance, our striving to be known loses some importance.
Casting Crowns have communicated this beautifully in their song, Who Am I. Take time to listen to this song and reflect upon how the Lord has established your name in the Book of Life.
One of the most misunderstood words in the Bible is the word fear. Anyone who has studied the ancient languages of Hebrew and Greek realize that English translations of words from these two are challenging at best. Hebrew words require can understanding of the culture from which they derive. While it may be argued that this fact is true in regard to any language, it seems even more so when it comes to Hebrew because Hebrew words are emotive and convey different understandings based on the emotion being expressed at the time. It can be said that few English words accurately express what is actually being said in Hebrew. Culture and context must be considered when choosing an English equivalent but even then the true meaning is seldom captured.
This brings us back to our dilemma with the word fear. Often when this word is heard in English, the hearer understands it to mean an emotion which arises because someone or something is dangerous and may cause harm. Clearly this is the intent when we encounter this English word translated from some of the Greek on Hebrew passages. However, there exist times when this would be a misunderstanding of the original ancient word. The verse from Psalm 103 is one of many places in Scripture where this confusion can easily be demonstrated. This verse speaks of God’s compassion. Compassion usually is not associated with an emotion arising from a perceived danger. God does not show compassion on those who are concerned about God being harmful toward them. So how are we to understand this word?
In this instance we have to look at the original Hebrew word. When we do so, we must realize that in their culture God is seen as extremely powerful and deserving of great reverence. The God which has given so much to and done so much for the Israelites is one who is deserving of all devotion, love and praise. Coming from this viewpoint, the Hebrew word here is better understood as worshiping or revering. This is not totally foreign to the English word fear, Webster lists as one definition of the word, “Extreme reverence or awe.”
The proper message being conveyed by the psalmist is that we experience great compassion from the God we have revered and stood in awe before.
When an immigrant desires to become a citizen of the United States, there is quite a process which the person must complete. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website lists the following:
Be at least 18 years of age at the time you file the application;
Have been a lawful permanent resident for the past three or five years (depending on which naturalization category you are applying under);
Have continuous residence and physical presence in the United States;
Be able to read, write, and speak basic English;
Demonstrate good moral character;
Demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government;
Demonstrate a loyalty to the principles of the U.S. Constitution; and
Be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance.
This list causes one to wonder how many citizens by birth could make it through this process
In the passage from Philippians, Paul speaks of being citizens. He mentions that we are transformed to this citizenship through the power of Christ. Striving to follow the example of Jesus as witnessed in others is our responsibility as heavenly citizens.
Paul’s words speak valuable concepts to us. Being reminded that our citizenship is in heaven provides a proper perspective on our earthly one. With citizenship comes responsibility. This sense of responsibility should not be taken lightly. In both types of citizenship, our care for others is paramount. This is the example given to us by our Lord and is applicable in both arenas.
When difficult times surround us, it can be a challenge to maintain a sense of hope. The impossibilities appear stronger than the possibilities. Yet we have a faith which can provide us peace and hope. A hope which comes from perseverance and character is based on the love of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
In the animated movie, The Prince of Egypt, this hope is spoken about in a song, When You Believe. May Lucy and Martha Thomas’s singing of that song remind you of the hope which is possible in our Lord.
It was quite common in 18th century Europe and the American colonies to have town criers. These were individuals who would be employed by a city to make announcements and share vital news by shouting in the streets. The earliest recording of such individuals is found in an account in Britain around 1066. The sharing of information has changed a lot since town criers were city employees.
The prophet Isaiah speaks of a form of a town crier in today’s passage. The news being shared is about peace and salvation. These items are being brought to the people by none other than the Lord. This never will be celebrated and witnessed by all the nations.
Today, we understand this passage as a foretelling of what Jesus Christ will do in Jerusalem. The salvation and peace which Jesus ushered in for all people is the good news, or gospel. It is now upon us that the title of town crier falls. We are to be the ones who are bringing good news to the world. Our message is one of peace and salvation which the Lord has brought into our lives.