Revelation 7:9 New Revised Standard Version The Multitude from Every Nation
9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
We might think of the United States as “one nation under God,” and so it is, but we are not the only Christians on earth. In his revelation, John sees people from every nation at the end of the world gathering to worship God. This tells us that no nation is entirely godless. It is possible to be a Christian in every place and time. No nation is unloved by God, because every nation has the beloved of God within its borders.
So it is that while a nation may be better governed, or offers more freedom than another, or there is more justice within its borders, no one country can be called “God’s country” to the exclusion of others. God’s love rest upon Christians in every country.
So it is that nationalism must never be confused with godliness. It is right and appropriate to love one’s country, but that love does not mean that God has blessed our country, or any country, more than others. God blesses all countries because God blesses Christians and the work they do and Christians are everywhere.
It is never appropriate to curse another nation, because we are to bless others, and especially other Christians. Even places like North Korea or Iran have Christians who do God’s work within their borders.
God of All Nations, help us to remember other Christians, especially those in difficult places. Give them strength to fight battles for you that we in America can scarcely imagine. Amen
Revelation 4:2-3 NRSV At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.
John was caught up in a vision, and he saw a glimpse of God on the throne of heaven. I have never had such a vision myself, but as a chaplain, I have spoke with others who have. Angels sitting on their beds, telling folks it would be okay. Jesus inviting them into heaven but telling them they had to go back to earth for a while yet. Visits with loved ones long dead. Why does God give people such encounters with the divine? To help them through difficult times, certainly. But just as much, it’s to send a message to others. If the vision was only for themselves, why return back from heaven? By telling the story, their encounter with the divine strengthens our faith, as well.
Almighty God, thank you for giving some of us glimpses of your power and majesty. Use theses visions to strengthen our faith. Amen.
Romans 14:13 (NRSV) Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.
Many of you have heard the story of my being allergic to chocolate when I was younger. How my family refrained from buying and eating chocolate to help me. I found out how Biblical that principle was, not to put a stumbling block in front of others. I loved my family all the more because of it. How different our world would be if everyone acted this way! Imagine a very partisan and enthusiastic Democrat (or Republican) gently and lovingly trying NOT to make life more difficult for the other side, not passing judgment on the other side. Not more dirty tricks or horrible ads. Imagine blacks and whites and browns gently talking in a group trying to help each other understand instead of being in each other’s faces. It would be a different world. That’s why Christians are so different than others. They try to do what’s right, despite the cost. How I wish I could always do the right thing, and never put a stumbling block in front of someone else!
Gracious God. Show us how to be as you are, helping others in every way possible, not making their lives more difficult. Amen.
Romans 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.
I wish I was never a hypocrite. I wish that I could never get after a person for something I do or have done also. Psychologists say it’s natural to do that: we hate most in other people those things we hate about ourselves. It may be natural, but it’s uncomfortable especially when I’m found out. I want to cupboard doors shut but I find I leave them open occasionally. Once in a great while driving I forget to signal. Whatever it is, it’s especially annoying when anybody else does it. This pandemic tries people’s patience. Seasonal events are cancelled left and right. We spend more time at home, and less time with strangers. We get on each other’s nerves, and we are a bit less forgiving than usual. It’s then when we need to be even MORE patient. More forgiving. We need to understand that everybody is stressed out. When it’s hard to be a Christian is when we most need to be. When the going gets tough, the Christians keep forgiving. That is what we need for our own soul’s sake, but it also makes the world a better place, in spite of COVID-19.
Forgiving God, help us to forgive even when we don’t feel like it. Amen.
Joel 1:4 New Revised Standard Version 4 What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten. What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten.
My mother’s first job 80 years ago was to work in a grasshopper control office in South Dakota. We hardly have insect plagues any more, because we have such good insecticides. Yet for most of human history, insect infestations were problems, deadly problems.
This verse in Joel is the end of a horrible plague in Judah. Actually, you can see there were 4 plagues, one right after the other. Back then, there was little to be done except suffer.
In 21st century America, we have gotten used to having things go well, that is to say, without wars, famines, plagues or pandemics. That is why COVID-19 has thrown us. It is not “normal” according to our 21st century American reality. But our 21st century lives are well above normal for having bad events when compared to all of human history, even with the corona virus we have now.
What are we to do? It is far better to expect that life will be hard and be pleasantly surprised than to assume things will go well and be upset when they don’t. That’s more philosophy than religion but it’s true.
I’m not saying Americans are like that, but we have gotten somewhat complacent, like the kingdom of Judah did. Judah thought the good times would last forever, but God’s message through the prophet Joel is “No, they don’t.”
Complacency is a form of sin, because when we’re complacent we fail to appreciate all we have and all God has given us. That’s why God allows evils like pandemics to remind us not everything in this world is good. We have to choose good and create good.
Gracious God, help us to appreciate what you have given us, and strive for what is good. Amen.
Ecclesiastes 3:5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
What on earth is this passage from Ecclesiastes 3 talking about? It’s talking about boundaries. First some background. Hebrew poetry is not rhyming the way our modern poetry often is. The two lines often say the same thing in different ways. So it is with these lines of verse 5.
But what is the meaning of the stones? Stones were used as property markers. If you wanted to mark a piece of property in the land, you’d gather a bunch of stones together and put them in a pile. That way a person who saw them would think, “this is somebody’s land” and know not to settle there. There were other times when boundaries were not needed, like when a person was leaving permanently to go to another place.
To embrace and hold back in the next line is the same thing. To embrace is not to keep a boundary. To hold back is to keep one.
So you see the two lines are really saying more or less the same thing. There need to be limits in law, and in relationships. Sometimes it’s good not to have boundaries and sometimes it is. It’s no good grazing your sheep on some else’s land or trying to raise crops there. But if you marry into the family, and your herds are merged into the family’s, maybe those land markers don’t have to be there. There are times when it’s appropriate to show physical affection and sometimes not. King Solomon, who wrote Ecclesiastes, knew that. Are there places in your life you need to set limits? Are there places you can get rid of limits?
Limitless God, help me to set limits when I need to, and cast them aside when I don’t need them anymore. Amen.