The Return

Read Luke 15:11-32

There is a saying which gets spoken often that goes like this, “There is no going back home.” In many situations, this saying is applicable. A desire to return to some point in our lives has crept into almost everyone’s thoughts. We can become nostalgic for a different time in our lives which our memories fool us into thinking was easier and problem-free. However, if we are to honestly to recall exactly what our views were at the specific time, we would have to admit that even then we longed for something else, something better and problem-free. So to some degree, the saying is true that we cannot go back, even if we could, it would not be the same. We really would not want it to be the same.

There is an exception of sorts to what I just presented to you. The exception has to do with reconciliation and restored relations. Jesus presents this exception in the form of a story about a father and his two sons. The story’s focus character is the man’s youngest son who longs for something better. The son takes his future inheritance and hits the road in search of adventure, only to find himself destitute and longing to go back home. When he finally gets the courage to return, the son fully reconciles with his father and the relationship is completely restored.

Jesus tells this story to give us understanding into the promise of reconciliation and restoration offered by God. With the Father, we are more than able to go back home. Not only is the ability made possible by the Lord, it is greatly desired by God. The chance to reconcile our relation with God is one of the greatest signs of love given to us. This opportunity is available as many times as we need it.

The other son in Jesus’s story also provides an important lesson for us. Even though the father was ready to, and did, reconcile with his youngest son, the older brother responded the opposite way. How many times do we reject the offer of reconciliation from others? Jesus communicated here the need for us to always work for reconciliation with one another.

A Lesson and Hope

Read Luke 23:39-43

Many famous leaders and celebrities become concerned about the legacy which they leave after their time in the public spotlight is over or they have died. There is a part of each one of us desiring to be remembered. One of the reasons we erect grave markers is to ensure we are not forgotten. Monuments and memorials of every shape and size are scattered throughout our land, our schools, our churches, and our institutions. We expend a large amount of time and money to remember.

A very poignant moment in Luke’s account of Jesus’s crucifixion is when there is a conversation involving two criminals and Jesus. As the three men hang on crosses, one of them  appears to be belligerent and mocks Jesus. The other criminal has a much different view of the situation. He sees Jesut as innocent  and undeserving of this cruel punishment. He sees Jesus as who others claim him to be. The man rebukes the other criminal, acknowledges his own guilt, and then makes a request to Jesus. He asks Jesus to remember him. The man wished to be remembered by the King of Kings, who he recognizes even as he hangs in agony. Jesus not only promises the man that he will remember him but promises that the man will be with Jesus in the kingdom.

Throughout the gospel recordings of Jesus’s ministry, we encounter Jesus promising the disciples that he would prepare a place for them, they would one day join him where he is, and he would always be with them. The criminal who hung on a cross beside Jesus is unknown to us until we meet him in this passage. There is no mention by Jesus or the man or Luke that this man had been a disciple of Jesus. Yet he receives the same promise that Jesus had made to his followers.

The criminal provides us a lesson and a hope. Observing what the request was from the criminal is important. He did not ask to be released from his punishment. He did not ask for some type of a miracle. The man asked to be remembered. A request that is not unfamiliar to us. Jesus’s response to the man provides us hope. We have not spent years physically walking with Jesus. We have not stood in front of the Lord declaring our commitment to him. We have come to know Jesus at what may be determined as the end of our world understanding. Yet the promise Jesus made to the Apostles, the disciples, and this man on a cross is our promise as well. Jesus promised not to only remember us but that we will be with him in the kingdom as well.

Help

Read Isaiah 41:8-13

Life can be difficult and filled with challenges. There are times when one can easily feel like everyone and everything is against you. The thought of another day may invoke fear. A person may sense enemies around each turn. You feel beaten up and without hope.

The people of Israel were feeling this way during their time of exile. They had been removed from their homeland. It seemed they had been attacked from every side. God appeared to have abandoned them. Into this situation, God speaks to the people through the prophet Isaiah. Part of that message is what we have read for today. In this section, God reminds the Israelites that they have been chosen. The people are assured that God has not rejected them. Then God communicates hope and tells them not to fear. The hope is found in the promise that God will provide the strength which they need to endure the difficulties. God will deal with the enemies and those who stand in opposition to them. The promise is that God will be their help.

The promise which Isaiah shares on God’s behalf was not only for the Israelites of that day but for all of God’s children. This is the promise which belongs to each of us. When we are feeling overwhelmed and/or having periods in life as described above, the message Isaiah speaks can bring us assurance and hope. Our God declares that being our help in these situations is God’s intention. By trusting in this promise and turning to God, we can endure because we know God is present to provide us strength. We also know that the situation is not permanent because our helper is offering a time when we no longer have anything to fear. Turn to and trust God because God has promised to be our help, strength and hope of a different future.

Promise of Presence

Today we pause from our exploration of the Lord’s Prayer to experience the promise of the Lord’s presence. Mack Brock, a contemporary Christiain artist, sings of this promise in Your Presence Is A Promise.

Brock reminds us that even in the darkest times of our lives, the Lord’s presence shines brighter. When we walk through the valleys on our journeys, God holds us even stronger. The presence of the Lord guides us, goes before us to prepare the future, and teaches us what we need to know. This promise is faithful and never ending.

What did you discover as you listened to this song?

What did this song affirm for you?

An Oath

13 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6:13-20 (NIV)

There are a variety of situations in which a person takes an oath to seal a promise made. Elected officials take oaths, as do judges, military personnel, and non-elected government officials. The oath is to confirm their promise to fulfill their assigned duties and to support the Constitution of the United States of America. A witness in a court proceeding takes an oath confirming their promise to tell the truth as they answer questions. There are all types of oaths but they each exist for the one purpose to affirm the fulfillment of a promise made.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrew people talks about oaths and promises. Specifically, an oath made to Abraham and then a promise made to us. God promised Abraham that he would be blessed and have many offspring. The writer tells us that God swore an oath to God’s self to fulfill the promise to Abraham. God kept that oath. The writer continues by connecting the promise and oath God made to Abraham with the promise of our salvation. The writer indicates that knowing God’s previous fulfillment assures us of the promise made for us. This assurance becomes the anchor of our hope. 

We have been made the promise that if we believe in Jesus Christ as God’s son who gave us a way to salvation from ourselves, we would experience our eternal life in God’s presence. This promise was given many years ago so some wonder if it is still possible. What we read here is an answer to that question. The promise is real and can be trusted to be fulfilled as seen throught history. This history includes what has been recorded in Scripture but also through the testimony of people present and past. In trusting in the oath and promise of God, we find hope.

God’s Protection

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91 (NIV)

A favorite song of many is “On Eagle’s Wings” written by Michael Joncas in the 1970s. The song was even mentioned in a speech which Joe Biden gave on November 7, 2020. This song is included in many funeral services but can also be heard in other worship services as well. Many of the lyrics of the song find their origins in a much older song which we know as Psalm 91. 

Reading Psalm 91 today, you may have found yourself humming or singing Joncas’s song. The words bring comfort and reassurance to us.They also point us toward a future where fear and battle is removed. The pain and suffering of our present time is taken away by our Lord. Scripture is filled with the now, but not yet, juxtaposition. This psalm promises the shelter of the Lord. The protection cited here presents an image of no harm or pain. The psalmist writes of angels preventing danger or injury. 

God extends this promise to all who love and turn to God. However, we know that even today there are those who love the Lord and turn to God for help who suffer, are injured, and die. Now, but not yet.

It is also very important to keep in mind the priorities of the Lord. While God values and sustains life of all creation, the physical life of a human is secondary to the spiritual life of the person. The psalmist presents an image of God protecting us physically because that is what is known and experienced. At times, God does protect us physically. The Lord always protects us spiritually when we allow. This makes sense because the physical is temporary while the spiritual is eternal.

Be assured that you live within the protection of the One who you love and who loves you. Be also assured that the Lord will lift you up as on eagle’s wings.