Isaiah 40:1-2 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
Israel was far from its homeland and the holy city of Jerusalem, and had been for more than two generations. They surely felt isolated and abandoned. The words God spoke through the prophet Isaiah in Babylonian exile seem remarkably appropriate to this, our place and time. Often Christians think of God in the Old Testament as a God of judgment. Here, a gentler God is evident, offering hope and comfort.
We need words of hope in this unusual, isolating situation as a result of the pandemic. We have certainly paid a “penalty” by being cut off from others for such a long time. These words of Isaiah can be a comfort to us, to remind us that our God is tender and loving. Our “term” at home will not last forever.
God of Mercy, remind us of your tender care, though the loving words you speak to us. Amen.
1 John 2:3-4 Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. 4 Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist…
I was in a couple of Christian groups in college. In one group, there was a man who acted like a “know-it-all,” and liked to bend any rule (always in his favor). I commented to another member how un-Christian he seemed. The woman said “You should have seen him before he was Christian! He was scary.” C.S. Lewis (who wrote the Narnia Chronicles) said Christianity doesn’t make you a good person, just a better person than you were before. Occasionally today you and I run across people who say they are Christian but don’t seem to be. They are rude, call others uncomplimentary names, or seem to be bragging. We are not God, but if we’re Christian, we know goodness when we see it. John says we’ll know we are following God if we can obey God’s commandments. Whoever does not obey God’s commandments, John says, doesn’t really know God. I believe what John says, but I also know people start out in different places spiritually. One may have had wonderful parents and another may have had horrible parents who taught them to be nasty. The safest course of action for a Christian is to recognize a person’s action for what it is, right or wrong, but not to judge a person’s soul, good or bad. Only God can do that well, because God knows everything and everyone.
Immortal Judge, help us to know you, recognize goodness and not, yet not try to take your place. Amen.
Romans 12:12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
The word for suffering in the verse above is more traumatic than “suffering” suggests. The Greek word is closer to our word “tribulation,” which mean extreme suffering in war time and chaos. Tribulation is what Christians faced in some places simply for being Christian, when Paul wrote to the Romans. The Greek word is used elsewhere in our Bible to describe how people suffer at the end of the world. Paul is asking folks to be patient in extreme hardship, when it happens. How do we rejoice, be patient in tribulation, and persevere? The answer is, we can’t, not really. But God can gives us strength beyond ourselves to do just that. It’s not fun to realize we need God desperately, but it is part of growing up in Christ. And as terrible as the Coronavirus can be, we are not being persecuted unjustly for our faith, thrown in jail, or fed to hungry lions. It might be easier if we had a clear foe. But our foe is quiet, invisible and yet still deadly. As God filled the Christian martyrs with courage, God will fill us with courage, hope and patience to endure what we must.
Holy Spirit, help us to trust You in things we cannot understand. Amen.
Genesis 37:9 He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
Last week, I had the chance to see "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" by Andrew Lloyd Weber. They were showing it for free on line so people could have some entertainment during this long confinement. It was a nice gesture, and there are many others who have made such a gesture with their ability to entertain. Look for such stories and videos to boost your mood. It’s a blessing!
Joseph was a marvelous production. Weber told the story of Joseph quite accurately except for one thing: there was no mention of God and how much God helped Joseph. In Joseph the musical, the moral of the story was simply to “Dream big, and you will do amazing things!”
In the Bible, Joseph’s success was not due to his dreaming. Instead, it was due to God’s providence, sending Joseph to the right way at the right time, and giving Joseph supernatural gifts to make his success possible. Joseph was a good and smart man, yes. But it was God, Joseph’s ability to cling to God and cling to God’s commandments under difficult circumstances that made Joseph a hero of the faith.
We are in difficult circumstances, from great inconvenience for some, to great hardship and danger for others. These times can test faith. But they also remind us how much of what we experience is beyond our control. We need strong faith in tough times to endure such hardship intact as people, and as Christians. We Christians are not self-made people. We are God-made, and Gold-helped people.
God of Joseph and Us, guide us through these uncertain times as you guided Joseph. Help us to cling to you even in these trying months. Amen
Proverbs 23:17-18 Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always continue in the fear of the LORD. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.
The proverbs above were written as poetry, not unlike many proverbs in our modern era (early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise). What is different about Hebrew poetry is that each couplet (two verses together) nearly always provides a different way of saying the same thing (not letting your heart be envious and fearing the Lord are the same things, or similar- they go together). The 4th line of Scripture above helps to interpret the 3rd line. We know in the 3rd line the author meant “there is a future” to mean “there is a good future.” We know this because in the 4th line above, hope is not cut off (my grandmother used to say, “dashed”). The two different couplets also relate to each other. To fear the Lord also means you have a good future. Not envying sinners means you will be hopeful. How does this relate to us? Ancient wisdom tells us that if we respect God, and don’t envy the wicked, we will have a good future. That’s a good thing to remember when the future is uncertain, as it is now. as remain mostly at home. We can’t envy the people who seem to profit from the Coronavirus. Israel, even at its strongest, was always a small country, surrounded by huge countries with great power. As long as they respected God and God’s commandments, they were okay. When they stopped doing that, they had big problems. So it is with us and America. If we do right, we’ll prosper. If not, there are problems ahead for this country.
Almighty God, remind us daily to fear you, and not be jealous of sinners. Amen.
Greatness Is Our Heritage
Romans 4:18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.”
Romans is a particularly difficult book for many Christians to understand. Part of it is the Apostle Paul’s “fault” for the way he wrote it. He was a scholar at heart so he wrote Romans in fancy Greek. Some of his sentences in Greek are a paragraph long. Usually translators break up these mega-sentences into three or more shorter sentences.
Another problem is that Paul talks a lot in Romans about abstract concepts such as faith, hope and love. Today’s verse is actually one of the easier ones to understand. Paul is reminding his formerly Jewish readers (they are new Christians) that Abraham was promised by God that he would be the father of many nations. He was. His descendants were the first Jews (through Isaac) and Arabs (through Ishmael).
These descendants scattered throughout the known world and formed many nations. But the important part of this verse is “hoping against hope, he believed.” Abraham risked a great deal to believe what God had told him in a vision, and he left his home behind. His belief in God was the key to his greatness.
What’s the point of this story? Trust in God and you can do amazing, almost unbelievable things, because God is helping you. You can do more things, endure more things and accomplish greatness. Whether this greatness is founding nations or simply being a great person where you are, with God you are great. Believe!
God of the Ages, help me to believe, so I can do great things for you. Amen
1 Corinthians 8:13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
When I was a boy, I had one AWFUL allergy. I was allergic to chocolate. No candy bars, chocolate milk shakes or even M&Ms. Now some parents back then would have said “tough beans, kid!” (Yes, folks did talk that way back in the Dark Ages) and say I just had to deal with it and grow up. I don’t know, taking such an attitude may help kids in the long run. But my parents took the opposite approach. They were kind enough not to bring much chocolate into the house, so I wouldn’t be tempted, and wouldn’t feel bad seeing others eat a treat I couldn’t eat (or shouldn’t because sometimes I would eat chocolate anyway, and suffer a reaction for it) The Apostle Paul sided with my parents. He had to deal with a difficult problem in Corinth. Christians believe there are no other gods than our one God. Some Christians in Corinth believed meat sacrificed to idols was okay because idols were not real. Some Corinthian Christians were afraid to eat such meat because they thought it was unholy. Paul answered by saying the ones that said eating sacrificed meat was okay were correct. There was nothing wrong with it- there is only one God. But he also said, if it is going to be a problem for some people, just stop eating it for THEIR sake. Kindness and helping another Christian was more important than being right. How might this work today? Instead of groups on the right and left who say, “I’m right, and you’re wrong-tough,” you might have two groups who would go out of their way be helpful and be kind instead of “right.” Even if they are… How might the world be different if more folks were willing to be kind to help another person?
God of love, help us to be kind to Christians (and others) who think differently than we do. Amen.