Standing Accused

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John 8:2-11 (NIV)

There are rules which are necessary to ensure order and safety within a society. Where there are rules, there are usually consequences for anyone who breaks a rule or set of rules. This is the basis for a legal system which then has courts and judges who interpret the rules, determine if a rule has been broken, and if so, establish the consequences. On the surface this appears to be rather cut and dry, simple to understand and enforce. However, anyone who has experienced or observed the legal system knows there are a lot of nuances and mitigating circumstances which come into play. Additionally, interpretation and appropriate consequences can lead to quite differing opinions.

Jesus is presented with a rule and consequence situation in the passage for today. This passage is part of a section of John’s gospel which is not included in all the ancient manuscripts but the actions of Jesus here seem to fit how we witness Jesus respond elsewhere. The experts on the Mosaic law bring a woman to Jesus who they claim has committed adultery. We are not told about any evidence or details to support their accusations. Instead, we hear them ask if the prescribed consequence as decreed by Moses should be administered. Based on Jesus’s initial reaction toward them, it seems Jesus is aware of their attempt to entrap him. After continued effort is made to get Jesus to give an answer, Jesus stands and says that the one who is without sin should begin the delivering of the prescribed consequence. No one begins stoning the woman because no one can claim to be without sin. After all have left and the woman acknowledges to Jesus that she has not been stoned by anyone, Jesus, the only one without sin, shows mercy.

Humanity is eager to judge, condemn, and exact punishment upon one another. Often we act as judge, jury and executioner when in our opinion someone has broken a rule. Jesus’s actions and statements should stop us in our tracks. Jesus reminds us that before we are so quick to pass judgment and exact punishment, we should examine our own lives. One can almost hear Jesus say the words we  were told when pointing at someone else’s actions as a kid, ” Remember when you point a finger at someone, you have three pointing back at you.” Like in this passage, we frequently do not even know the whole story. We may not be privy to the aspects of another’s life and circumstances. Rules are established for the good of everyone but caution should be taken as we interpret those rules, apply them to others, and punish those who we judge to have broken them. It is best if we enforce rules in our own lives first and foremost. 

Old Versus New

33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”

34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”

Luke 5:33-39 (NIV)

A custom around weddings is one regarding what a bride wears on her wedding day. The saying which guides the custom is… “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, a sixpence in your shoe.” This is an Old English rhyme, which if followed, is to bring good luck to the marriage. Many of us enjoy old sayings and customs. They bring a sense of comfort to us. In fact, even the progressives among us have some level of desire to hold on to something from the past. By doing so, we are able to be a bit grounded as we experience change and newness. The issue which can arise is when we hold on so tightly to the past that we lose the possibilities of the future.

Jesus brings this issue to the forefront during one of his frequent encounters with the Pharisees. He had just called Simon, Andrew, James, John and Levi. Levi, a tax collector, holds a banquet in Jesus’s honor where many of his fellow tax collectors attend. The Pharisees take issue with Jesus and his disciples eating and drinking with tax collectors, undesirables. Jesus explains he has come for the sick, not the healthy. Then the Pharisees question why Jesus’s disciples do not fast according to the customs. Jesus again explains that while he is present there is no need to fast; after he leaves there will be plenty of time for fasting. Jesus then tells a parable about putting old wine in new wine skins and the folly of such an action. He concludes with a statement pointing out how people tend to prefer the old. Jesus is speaking about preferring old customs and attitudes which leads to being left out of the possibilities of the new which are before them.

As mentioned above, the old can bring comfort and a grounding. There are important times for such things. But caution should be taken that holding on to the old and familiar does not lead us to lose out on the opportunities of the new. Scripture tells us that the Lord is doing a new thing. We must be alert to what the Lord is doing. There are possibilities each day which the Lord creates. If we are focused solely on our previous customs and attitudes, those possibilities will pass us by and we will be left wanting. Find strength in the old to experience the new. Remember what is old was new at one time.

Love Demonstrated

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 3:16-18 (NIV)

There are behaviors and skills which are second nature in life. Then there are behaviors and skills which must be taught. Breathing, sleeping, and walking are examples of second nature skills; albeit, walking is a progression and requires self-teaching. Riding a bicycle, swimming, and placing others’ needs first are all examples of skills and behaviors which must be taught to us. Certain forms of love, or at least demonstrations of love, fall in the latter category. We need examples placed before us so we are able to understand how to appropriately demonstrate our love for others.

In the portion of the letter which we have read today, we are made aware of the love of God as demonstrated to us through Jesus Christ. Jesus gave an example of how to express a deep level of love for others. Humanity had the need to overcome sin and the result of sin, death. Because of God’s deep love for all of humanity, in Christ the need was met through the actions on the cross. This was a profound action taken to demonstrate the level of love God has for each one of us. The writer here then gives the example of one of us witnessing someone who has a material need. If the witness has the means to meet that need but does not, she/he is not demonstrating God’s love within them. We are to look to Christ’s example to teach us how to express God’s love. This expression is not in words but in actions.

The passage from today is convicting to many of us. We easily say that we love each other, including strangers, in Christ’s love but our actions often fall short. Christ gives us the example to learn from which teaches us that God’s love is not about words but is found in the actions of God. If we claim that we love one another because God has loved us, yet when given opportunities to exhibit that love through our choices and actions, the truth is not in us. Love as defined and shown by God is a love of action. May we learn and follow this truth.

Casting Nets

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11 (NIV)

Most of us wish to relax after putting in a full day of work. We desire to come home, have some dinner and then engage in one of our favorite past times to unwind from the day. Some evenings we have home projects to complete or events to attend before we can begin our relaxation time. The last thing we wish to do is return to work activities.

In the passage from Luke today, we hear Jesus requesting Simon to return to the work he has been doing all night long. Jesus first asks Simon to let him borrow his boat to go out in the water so he can create some space from the growing crowd. Simon obliges Jesus and Jesus teaches a while from the boat to the people on the shore. After Jesus finished teaching, he told Simon to do something which we all would hate if we were Simon, to start working again. Simon politely explains to Jesus that they had been fishing all night but caught nothing. Simon clearly did not wish to work anymore, he wanted to finish cleaning the nets and rest. While he is not mentioned, we can assume that Simon’s brother, Andrew, is in the boat with them. Simon and Andrew cast their nets once again. This time instead of catching nothing, they caught so many fish that their partners, James and John, have to assist them in hauling all the fish into the boats. Simon realizes Jesus’s power and Simon’s unworthiness to even be near him. Jesus tells Simon and the others not to be afraid of him. He then explains that from now on they will not fish for fish but for the souls of humanity. All four begin to follow Jesus.

Most of us can imagine Simon’s thoughts when Jesus tells him to cast the nets one again. Simon was tired after a long night of work. Simon was frustrated because all the work of casting the heavy nets and pulling them back in over and over had produced nothing.Then comes this man who not only wants to be taken out in the boat, interrupting completion of the last chore of the day which would be followed by a meal and rest, but then says to throw the nets back in the water for nothing. We can relate to Simon because that is how we feel about our fishing for Jesus. Our attempts to invite people to worship, help on service projects, or hear about our faith can feel futile. We get to the point where we want to stop fishing, stop reaching out to others, and just enjoy practicing our faith in our own way. But Jesus says to cast our net one more time, we may be surprised with the results.

Victory

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:50-57 (NIV)

Competition is a part of everyone’s life. There are all forms of athletic competitions. Beauty pageants and performance competitions are held all over the world. Spelling bees, academic decathlons and game shows test skills and knowledge. With the rise of reality television shows, a whole new form of competition has entered our society. Then there is the fact of competition in our everyday lives. Competition exists in the work environment as employees vie for positions, promotions, and raises. Businesses compete against one another for the consumer’s money. The list of life’s different competitive situations can appear to be endless. Competition is not an exclusively human dynamic either. Throughout creation competition exists for food, water, mates and shelter.

The passage which we read today from Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth speaks of a competition. This competition is between life and death. It is a competition not just for the physical nature of humanity as much as it is for the spiritual aspect of humanity. Yes, Scripture tells us that at the point of resurrection, the physical body will be raised and reunited with the spirit just as with Christ but a person’s spirit is even more important to God. The competition was ended by Christ as he defeated death by his destruction of sin and his resurrection. Christ claimed the victory.

For you and me, being given a victory which we have done nothing to earn is amazing. Paul tells the Corinthians and us that God has given us the victory over death through Jesus Christ. We obtain this victory because death is due to sin. Since Jesus wiped away our sin through the cross, there is no need for death anymore. The victory is ours in a competition we could never win. Jesus is the only way we have victory.

Such A Time

Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.

So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate. Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.

Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 11 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”

12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

17 So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.

Esther 4:5-17 (NIV)

Timing can be key in some situations. Submitting an application for a position at just the right time can make the difference in receiving the position or not. Walking into a coffeehouse at a specific moment can lead to an encounter which may open doors to a new opportunity or relationship. An idea may be well received at one time even if it had been rejected at another time. Timing can be the key to success.

The passage from the story of Esther focuses on timing. Esther had caught the eye of the king and the king chose to make her his queen. This placed Esther in a position which would later serve her and the Jews well. When Mordecai shared the plight of Esther’s people with her, she was hesitant to approach the King because of her fear for her own safety. It is only when Mordecai pointed out the true threat to her and her family’s safety did Esther begin to see the call to action in a different light. Then when Mordecai asks Esther if this is the time for which she has been placed where she is, she springs into action.

Each day we are given new opportunities and new challenges. Some of these are small in perspective while others are significant. God is moving us forward and providing us with choices which may lead us to a position where we can make a meaningful impact. Fear can cause us to hesitate from acting on opportunities that our positions may afford us. Just as Mordecai asked Esther, we must ask ourselves if we may have been placed where we are for such a time as this.

New Creation

11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

Galatians 6:1-16 (NIV)

Have you ever encountered someone who wishes everyone to be aware of all of their successes and accomplishments? At one level this can be important when applying for a job or new position. There is a need for self promotion in these circumstances. The issue arises when this is taken to the extreme and the work which the person is doing is to make oneself look good in the eyes of others. It is even a greater issue when the individual makes demands upon others so they may boast about themselves.

Today’s passage is found in the letter Paul writes to the believers in Galatia. Paul is speaking to the Galatians regarding the encouragement by the Jews to the Galatians to be circumcised. Paul says this is entirely because they want to boast about their success in converting the Gentiles to be followers of the law. He indicates this is hypocrisy because those making this request as a part of the law are unable to keep the law themselves. Boasting should be limited to the cross of the Lord. Being a new creation is more important than upholding a section of the law.

The emphasis which Paul makes to the Galatians is the boasting here should be about how we are a new creation through the cross of Jesus. Our boasting comes not from any action by us but the action of our Lord. This new creation counts far beyond our ability to adhere to a law. Adherence to the law shows an emphasis in our actions. The actions of the Lord are far greater and more important. 

Come and See

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
    Sing the glory of his name;
    make his praise glorious.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    So great is your power
    that your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down to you;
    they sing praise to you,
    they sing the praises of your name.”

Come and see what God has done,
    his awesome deeds for mankind!

Psalm 66:1-5 (NIV)

Hiking can be an activity filled with many wonderful benefits. Being outside along trails allows one to exercise which helps to reduce weight, improve heart and lung health, and benefit sleep. This form of exercise can also reduce stress and improve mental health. Hiking also offers beautiful views of nature, including experiencing wildlife. Viewing nature can create feelings of wonderment and awe.

Like many of the psalms, Psalm 66 is a psalm of praise. The psalm begins with a call for all creation to express joy. Singing of God’s glory and offering of praise sets the tone for this psalm. The fifth verse in the psalm invites all people to come and see. The psalmist seems to indicate that by seeing what the Lord has done it is almost inevitable that one would shout for joy and sing praises to the Lord.

Experiencing God’s marvelous work in creation is one of those come and see moments. How the Lord has created the brilliant colors, the amazing effects of sunlight on rippling water, and the interaction of creatures, communicates the awesome deeds of the Lord. The key for us in hearing the invitation. Most people benefit from first-hand experiences. We are surrounded by the awesome deeds of the Lord but we must take the time and open our eyes to see.  Our praise will follow. 

Light and Darkness

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:5-10 (NIV)

Catching a sunrise can be a beautiful experience. As the darkness of the night gives way to the light of the day, there are types of colors and hues. Clouds which are on the eastern horizon can add to the color and the dazzling of the light. It is a fact that darkness and light cannot co-exist. The imagery of darkness and light have represented unrelenting opposition in our world. This is often referred to as black and white; black representing darkness and white representing light. You may have heard sayings such as, “They are as different as black and white.” or “They oppose each other like day and night.” Old Western movies would put the bad guys in black or dark clothing while the good guys would be dressed in white or light outfits. All of this exemplifies our view that light and darkness cannot dwell together.

At the beginning of the letter we know as I John, a discussion in regard to light and darkness occurs. The author states that God is light and no darkness can abide with the light. The dynamic of light representing holiness and righteousness while darkness represents sin and unrighteousness is put forth. We are told that if we come into the light, Jesus’s blood will purify us from our sin (darkness). This is important because we cannot be in fellowship with God if we have sin. The writer also tells us that if we claim to be in the light and without sin, or have no need of Jesus’s purifying blood, then we deceive ourselves and there is no truth in us or our claims. The hope is found in the reality that if we confess our sin, acknowledging our need to be purified, then God promises to forgive them and cleanse us of them.

Walking in darkness can lead to a host of problems. Darkness does not allow us to see the dangers and pitfalls which are in our path. We can easily stumble, fall and even do serious damage to ourselves or others. Walking in sin does not allow us to experience the fullness of our Lord. We can cause fatal damage to our spirit. By entering the light of God’s fellowship by confessing our sins, we take our first step into the light of God which is filled with forgiveness, grace and love. This first step is like when the first rays of sunlight break into night’s darkness before the first sighting of the full sun occurs. Before one knows it, the light completely dispels the darkness and the sun radiates light from above the horizon. Come into the light and leave the darkness behind you.

An Invitation

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Isaiah 25:6-9 (NIV)

Imagine receiving an invitation to attend a banquet. This banquet is being hosted by a very important and powerful person. The individual is known to have access to the finest food, wines and drinks known to humanity. You are also aware that the location of the banquet has been described as having unparalleled views, amazing furnishings and ideal weather. You are not required to bring anything or pay any sort of fee to attend. What you wear to the banquet does not matter because a special robe, exactly your size, has been prepared for you to wear once you arrive. Would you even consider turning down the invitation?

The passage which we have read today from Isaiah is part of a song of praise. The song speaks of God’s faithfulness to Israel. God’s protection of Israel from foreign enemies and the destruction of those foreign cities is lifted up. Then the words of the song switch to the telling of the Lord preparing a great banquet for all people. This is where our reading begins. The song moves from speaking about a great feast to God’s work in destroying death and its power over humanity. The Lord will remove the tears and disgrace of all people. The celebration then begins.

You have received an invitation to a banquet. The Lord has invited you to come to a celebration where death, tears and shame no longer exist. You know the host and the host’s abilities. The location has been described throughout Scripture.  There will even be people who you have previously known there. The price of admission has been provided. A special robe to cover all the dirty parts of your life has been made especially for you. Only one thing remains to be done, accepting the invitation. Will you?