Sunday, July 26, 2015

Famine or Feast?

First Scripture Reading:     John 6:1-15 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.  A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.  Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.  Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.  When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little."  One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?"  Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.  When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost."  So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.  When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."  When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

Second Scripture Reading:    2 Kings 4:42-44 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God (Elisha): twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, "Give it to the people and let them eat."  But his servant said, "How can I set this before a hundred people?" So he repeated, "Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, 'They shall eat and have some left.'"  He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.

Sermon:  “Famine or Feast?"
We’ve just read two example of how bread was miraculously multiplied.
But what do you think?  Are these stories really about bread?
No, of course not!  These are really examples of God’s economics!  Just look.

Do you remember a couple weeks back I recounted the story of David and Goliath?  These stories are similar to the story of David and Goliath.  In the Goliath story, people saw too big of a problem (Goliath) and too little of a solution (David).  In these stories about Elisha and Jesus, the people see too big of problem (a crowd) and to little of a solution (food).  But in each of these stories God is the answer.  Everyone thought there was a scarcity.  But where we see scarcity, God see abundance.

What is it about God and bread?  There are so many examples linking God and bread.  What is it about bread?   Maybe it is because we all know bread, we have it every day.  The earliest archaeological evidence for an unleavened bread, dates to around 30,000 years ago. 

Did you know that every human culture has some form of bread?  It doesn’t make any difference how primitive and remote a people may live, they bake bread.  All it takes is some form of starch, and water.  I just watched a YouTube video where a guy made bread out of cattail roots.  However, it is still recognizable as bread.  With or without salt, with or without leavening (yeast or soda), it is still bread.  It is everywhere … just like God.

In today’s Gospel reading, both Philip and Andrew were given the opportunity to feed the multitude. They took widely different approaches. 

Philip did a quick count.  “Let’s see, one, two, three!  No better count by tens; ten, twenty … Nope that’ll take too long.  Alright, about a hundred there, and there, and there and …  Hmm, looks like about 5000 men!   And roughly the same number of woman and kids.  So let’s say ten thousand.”  “Okay, now figuring in the current price of bread … multiply by ten thousand, carry the one … and … looking in the communal purse and Nope!  Ain’t gonna happen!  Not if we had a half-year’s wages.  And we don’t.  Sorry, Master, guess we’d better send ‘em home before it gets dark!”

I can imagine Jesus taking a deep breath and thinking about just how to explain to Philip what he has in mind.

Just then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother interrupts, “Um, while you were doing your counting heads and jiggling coins in the purse, I went through the crowd to see who had food.”

Jesus nods and smiles at Andy’s taking the initiative.  “So, what did you find?”

“A bunch of tired and hungry people.”

Jesus smiles and asked, “Didn’t anyone bring any food?”

Andrew answered, “Well there was this one kid who offered his lunch.”

“Great!  How much does he have?”

“Um, a couple fish and five rolls.  But, you know, that just isn’t …”

Jesus interrupts, “Wonderful!  Just enough!  Bring ‘em here!  We’re gonna have a picnic!  Everybody sit.  Sit.  Eat your fill and enjoy.”  Jesus then gave thanks to God for his unsurpassed bounty and broke the bread into chunks and distributed them with the fish to the crowd.

Well, we know what happened!  Everybody ate, burped their approval (really! that was considered polite in that culture!) and then they gathered up the twelve baskets of leftovers.

In our Hebrew Scriptures we read where a farmer brings some of his produce to the prophet.  
“Mister Elisha, sir, here is my tithe of the first fruits of my crops.  Enjoy!” 

Elisha said, “Well done, I love the smell of fresh baked bread.  Bless you!  But there are one hundred hungry men here, give it to them instead.”  

The farmer replies, that’s mighty nice of you but there are only twenty loaves.  That’s not going to be enough … and I don’t have any more.”

Elisha smiles and nods and said, “Just give what you have and see what God can do.  Everyone will be filled and there’ll be leftovers.”

The farmer “sacrificed” a tithe of his produce as a gift to the man of God.  And Elisha sacrificed it all for the well being of others.  Both of them planted a seed from which God could produce a bounty.

Do you remember the story of Ruth from the old testament?  Naomi was living with her married sons in a foreign land.  Both men died and left their widowed wives, Orpah and Ruth, with their mother.  Naomi desires to go home to Israel

Before she leaves she, like a good Jewish mother-in-law, tells the widows, "You girls, such pretty young things, go home.  Find a husband, he should be so lucky to have you.  May the Lord bless.  Marry rich, you should be secure.". Then they hugged and kissed.  But the girls said that they'd rather go with her.

"Whaddaya nuts?  Do ya think this old lady is gonna give birth to some new sons for you?  God forbid!" was Naomi's reaction.  Orpah (not Oprah) took the advice and left.  But Ruth said, "Where you go, I go.  Where you live, I'll live.  Your people and your God will be my people and my God."

Naomi winks and replied, "For you I've got a fella.  He’s family, rich and not bad on the eyes, name of Boaz.  I'll introduce you."

They return to Israel and Ruth goes to work for Boaz in the field.  He sees her and one thing leads to another. Boaz said to her, "Come over here, and help yourself to some food.  You can dip your bread in the sour wine.”  So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat.  She ate all she wanted and still had some left over.Very loosely from the book of Ruth

Again, bread.  Again, leftovers.

Ruth sacrificed her home, all that she had ever known to follow Naomi.  She gained a husband and had a son, Obed.  Obed was the father of Jesse, the father of David, from who’s line Jesus entered the world.

Are you beginning to make a connection here?

Back to our story of Jesus and the barley loaves and fish.  Have you ever wondered what happened to the leftovers?  God is not just a God of abundance but also of overflowing blessings.Malachi 3:10  I don't have proof, but I believe that, because the little boy gave his lunch into God's service, he received the overflow.  That seems to me the way God’s economy works.  To those who give, God opens the windows of heaven and pours out an overflowing blessing.

In each of these stories God required some seed.  Someone had to give something to get the whole blessing thing going.  Yes, sometimes God just gives.  But more often than not, someone has to step up and make a sacrifice first.

I remember working with my kids to make rock candy.  It is a simple process.  You take a container of hot water and then you dissolve as much sugar in it as you possible can.  Now you take a piece of string and dip it into sugar and suspend it in the jar.  Then you wait. And wait.  And D-A-D!  when is going to be candy?  And wait!  And then something begins to grow on the string.  Crystal by crystal it begins to grow on that string.  Now I’m telling you this because If you don’t add some sugar to that string, that jar of sugary water can sit there for a long long extremely long time without anything happening … eventually, the water evaporates and leaves a sold chunk of sugar on the bottom of the jar.  You have to provide the seed sugar for the candy to form.

The same principle applies to rain and snow.  There has to be some dust or pollen in that cloud for the rain or snow to adhere to.

Farmers and gardeners understand this seeding principle.  You have to sacrifice a seed to produce more seed.

This is God’s economy.

Where are the scarcities in your life? 

I grew up poor.  I didn’t know that we were poor.  Some things might have been a clue:  My mother and I lived in a converted chicken house for several years.  I remember taking lard and sugar sandwiches for my school lunches.  Does that sound like scarcity to you?

Now let me tell you the rest of the story.  The reason Mom and I lived in that building, which had most recently been my Father’s sewing machine shop, was because my brother, his wife, and three or four kids needed a place to stay.  Mom and I lived in a small five room house on an acreage.  When my brother and family needed a place to live, Mom didn’t see the scarcity.  She saw the chance to have her son and grandkids close to her. 

That chicken house had been moved next to the house and converted into a sewing machine shop when, due to failing health, my father needed to move his business from downtown Des Moines.  He had been dead for several years and the shop was no longer used.  A little rearranging and it became suitable if not lavish place for us to live so that my brother and family could live in the original house.  Mom “sacrificed” her house to make a home for my brother and we gained a larger, tighter family group. What had been a small five room house now came to be called, “the Big House.”  The house hadn’t changed size, just our perspective was changed. 

As for food, we had an acreage full of fruit and vegetables, we raised chickens for eggs and meat, the cellar was stocked with home canned goods, thanks to Mom’s hard work.  We ate healthy, home grown food.  Yes, money was scarce after my Father died, but we owned the home and had few expenses.  The Lord provided.  And I never knew we were poor.

Many years ago, Ella and I sat down and imagined our dream home.  It would be on many acres of wooded land outside the city far enough but not so far to make travel difficult.  It would have a large house with a huge kitchen for preparing meals for our family and friends.  And of course the house would have a view of the private lake where we could fish with our grandkids.  We said that it would be nice to have some places for friends with RVs to come and stay with full hook ups.  Sounds nice, huh?

That dream vanished when we got rid or our big old Victorian four bedroom house and moved into our first RV to live fulltime.  We went through some MAJOR downsizing.  We sold, gave and donated a lot of our “stuff” that we’d accumulated and still had to trash a lot of it.  We created our own scarcity.

Several years ago after a communal meal at Cutty’s Campground, we were looking out the window at the beautiful lake, when Ella got this surprised expression on her face and said, “This is my dream home!”  A quick look around and I realized she was right.  God had given us everything that we had dreamed of … just not in the way we had imagined.  Again, a change of perspective.  By sacrificing our house, we gained everything that we had dreamed of!

God is constantly surprising me with the way He answers prayer.  Seldom does the answer come in the say I’d expected it.  I think He does that on purpose so that I’ll recognize the answer when it comes.

Maybe God has a bounty available to us that we are just not seeing.


Sometimes when we focus on that last crumb of bread we see starvation.  However, God replies, “They shall eat their fill and have leftovers.”  

Amen

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Woe to the Shepherds

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Jeremiah 23:1-6

      Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
     The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness."

 

Sermon: “Woe to the shepherds”

In the book of Jeremiah God calls him to be His prophet and to stand up against the false prophets of the day. God tells him that, “They have spoken falsely of the Lord, and said, ‘He will do nothing. No evil will come upon us, and we shall not see sword or famine.’ The prophets are nothing but wind, for the word is not in them.”5:12-13 He is called to stand up to the leaders of Israel and Judah and call them whores. He tells them how disappointed and angry God is with them for breaking the covenant that he had made with Israel. He even tells them that God is sickened by their pretentiousness at calling Him their Father since they have so blatantly turned from His teachings.3:4-5

Jeremiah is nearly all about how God was going to remove his hand from the land and let their enemies over run them and carry them off to captivity in distant lands. But God holds out a hope that He will be able to instruct a new generation and they will recreate the broken relationship between God and His people. Again and again He begs His children to repent calling out, “Return, O faithless children. I will heal your faithlessness.”3:22

The prophet Jeremiah lived about six centuries before the birth of Jesus. His writings were about the troubles he saw in his own time. He (through the power of God) laid the blame for all the problems on the very people tasked with leading them. Six hundred years later Jesus made the same observations in His time on earth. And a simple look at our own time shows that the same things are still occurring. God’s people are being lead astray by the very people who should be leading them to God.

In Jeremiah’s time there were “prophets” who were telling the people what they wanted to hear; that all was well and good and there was nothing to fear. Jeremiah, on the other hand, was prophesying about the coming dispersal of the Jews to other lands and the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Not only does Jeremiah predict this, he also (as the voice of God) lays the blame on the supposed religious leaders and people in power. God says, “Their houses are full of treachery; therefore they have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek, they know no limits in deeds of wickedness, they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy.”5:27-28 For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain, and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely.”6:13

Through his prophet, God also gives the good news that He will gather His people from every land and will provide a king from David’s family that will deal wisely, be just and righteous. The Lord said, “For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors for ever and ever.”7:5-7

In the first chapter of Jeremiah it recounts his “call”. “Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” And what was Jeremiah’s reaction? “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”1:4-5 But God chose to give this boy the power over nations and kingdoms to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”1:10

The messages that Jeremiah brought to the rulers of the people were harsh. God was accusing them of pulling away from him and following after false gods. That would be bad enough, but he also convicts them of leading others away from him. Instead of being good shepherds of God’s people, they were leading them to death and destruction. He said, “Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers have transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.”2:5 In poetic language, God says that He has these two things against them: abandoning Him and His teachings and laws, leading His children to destruction.

Now let’s skip ahead six centuries and see what Jesus has to say about those who handle the law, the rulers and the prophets. In Matthew 15 we read where the Pharisees and scribes (read that as rulers and keepers of the Law) ask Jesus why His disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate. Jesus responds, “And why do you break the commandments of God for the sake of your tradition?”15:2-3 Does that not sound like exactly what Jeremiah was condemning Israel for in ages past? Jesus goes on to warn his disciples to beware the teachings of the Pharisees and Saducees.16:12 He also warned them and us, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray.”Matt 24:4-5 He laments over their unwillingness to return to God when he says, “O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kill the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”Luke 13:34

Throughout the gospels we read of the Pharisees coming to Jesus with trick questions about paying taxes (both temple and Roman), about adultery, about divorce, about marriage in heaven, about working on the Sabbath, and on and on. Never, never, never! does it end well for those seeking to entrap Jesus. Every time that they think they have a fool proof plan, a plan that which ever way Jesus answers, they will be able to charge him with breaking either the Jewish law or the Roman law, he turns it around on them. How frustrated they must have been. No wonder that Jesus tells the people that, because the rulers sit on the throne of Moses (figuratively), what they say is to be obeyed. But he also warns not to do as the Pharisees do because they make impossible rules that they themselves can not follow but by which they will judge the people.

Okay, now I’m a little afraid to do this, however, shall we take a look at our own time? What has changed in the twenty one centuries since Christ walked the earth? Or for that matter in the twenty seven since Jeremiah? Keep in mind that in Jeremiah’s and Jesus’ times the religious leaders were also the political rulers. In our day, of course we have a division between church and state. To examine our time, we are going to need to take a look at the condition of religious and political leaders.

Because of the mandate of our camping club, this worship is non-denominational and non-partisan. That means, I’m trying to tip toe through a mine field here. But it scares me to death to read Jeremiah and hear him issuing the same condemnation to us. Are we dealing justly with the widow, the orphan the poor, and the alien in our land? Do we say “Father, you are the friend of my youth. But continued to do all the evil we can?”3:4-5 Let me ask you, with out naming names, can you give examples of our leaders, religious and secular that appear to be disconnected from God and/or leading the people away from God?

I really want your input here. I’ll start by saying that I hear and read too many evangelists and pastors preaching a religion of prosperity. That is, telling people that if they follow their teachings (and buy their books, DVDs, and whatever) that their lives are going to be all cake and ice cream. That money will come pouring in and they’ll never be sick. That just doesn’t match up with the realities of life. If you want to know what being a Christian means, look at the lives of Jesus’ apostles. They lived hard, persecuted lives and most died untimely deaths. God promises that he will be with us during life’s trials … not that we will not have to go through them.

(take some time here to facilitate a discussion with the congregation.

Be careful to not allow it to become a “name calling” rant)

There were some good points brought up. It is fairly easy for us to point out the errors that others are making. Jesus warns that before we remove the splinter from our bother’s eye, we must first remove the log that is in ours.Mat 7:5 So, before we become too smug, let me remind us that every Christian … e-v-e-r-y Christian has a God given task to perform for the glory of God. So remember, as a Priesthood of Believers 1Pet 2:5, we are all … all leaders. Yep! This is where I begin to meddle.

I don’t know what the Lord has called you to do. I just know that you are called to be and active part of God’s plan. So, whatever you are called to do I just know that there are no none-working parts of the body of Christ.

I was called to preach. And I promise to never, knowingly give you false information. And sometimes it scares me that I might misspeak or unknowingly mislead you. I pray before each time I preach that, no matter what I say, His words will be heard. I know that it works because I’ve had people come up to me after a service and excitedly tell the service that they heard, and I think to myself, “That’s sounds great, I wish I’d have said it.”

The great commission … the last commandment given by Jesus was, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” “Go to the whole world and proclaim the good news.” The good news is that God kept his promise that he would raise up a leader from the line of David. Jesus the Christ came and paid the price and settled the debt that was owed to God. We have proof where the people of the Old Testament had only hope. That commandment to “go and tell” is for every Christian. “But wait,” you say, “I’m not a missionary. I can’t go into the whole world.” That may be true, however you can go into YOUR world. We each come into contact with people all the time. We may be the only Christian that some people will ever know. Our mission field need not be in some distant land. It may be in our own home, neighborhood, work place, club, grocery store … get the picture?

We have a job to do. Not all jobs are the same. However, all jobs are of equal importance to the Kingdom of God. Scripture says, “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.Eph 4:11” “Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church: first are apostles, second are prophets, third are teachers, then those who do miracles, those who have the gift of healing, those who can help others, those who have the gift of leadership, those who speak in unknown languages.1 Cor 12:28” Remember that we are the body of Christ 1Cor 12:27 in this present age. And all of us are to use our God given talents to further His kingdom.

Now that we understand that we all are a leaders … shepherds, how do we insure that we are leading down the right path? If you are looking for and easy answer like, go to church regularly, forget it. It takes work to be prepared. It is necessary to be immersed in the Word of God, the Bible.

There are so many Bibles … so many translations. Find several that you can understand. For many people the King James Version with it’s Old English and archaic terms, just doesn’t make sense. I grew up with two versions of the Bible: King James and the New World Translation (which is used by Jehovah’s Witnesses). It was in reading both and seeing differences (discrepancies) between them that first got me to reading many translations of the Bible. A good study Bible with Parallel translations is very useful.

Since I can not read the original writings of any of the many contributors to the Old and New Testament books, I must rely on other’s research. Because I am relying on the work of others, I am careful to compare with other works. If I begin to see that the author(s) of a certain version are letting their own interpretation or denominational bias influence the translation, I discard it. .

Do not be fooled into thinking that only preacher, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries need to study the Bible. I don’t care if your place in the kingdom of God is a “non speaking part.” You may be the one called upon to sweep the floor or drive a truck. If you are doing it for God, you need to know what God expects of you. You have to read the instruction book, the owner’s manual, the Bible. There is no other way to be positive that you are not following the wrong shepherd.

Now understand that reading the Bible is not the same as studying it. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.” 2 Tim 3:16 Do not read it like you would a book of fiction. Read it more like a cookbook. Look for the proper ingredients to build your life on God’s foundation. Read it to gain understanding and to accomplish something. When you read a passage of scripture stop and think about it. Seek to understand the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of the passage and most importantly ask, “What does this mean to me?” There are many good “daily devotionals” to help you get started. I recommend that you use one. However, they do not replace your own study of the scriptures. Only by studying to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth”2 Tim 2”:15 can we be sure of being on solid ground. Jesus has said that, “My sheep know my voice.”John 10:27 Studying is the only sure way to learn the voice of the Master Shepherd.

Okay, now we are becoming grounded in the word, now pray. Pray. Pray. Pray. We are to stay connected with God. Prayers do not need to be long, elaborate and eloquent. Prayers just need to come from your heart and your mind. We know how to stay connected with friends and family … we have cell phones, smart phones, iPads, computers, social media, land lines and hand written letters. Put God on your speed dial (figuratively). Go to God in small instant prayers. I’ve been known to look at a beautiful sunset and say, “Yeah, God!” I’ve seen a reckless driver and whispered, “Lord, keep him and those around him from harm.” Sometimes, at the end of my rope, I’ve just said, “Help!” We have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit available to us and He will guide, council and comfort us if we but listen.

Years ago I heard a woman telling about one time when she was standing in a checkout line. She was quietly thinking of some blessing in her life and the word, “Jesus” slipped from her lips. The cashier quickly asked, “What’s the matter?” Isn’t that sad that she automatically thought this woman was cursing? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if enough people would say a word of praise out loud that those hearing us would automatically think we are praying instead of cursing? Stay connected with God through prayer. Talk to him as you would a friend, a teacher, or a parent. Pray for others. Make a list if you need to. Pray for yourself, your family, your friends, your coworkers, the pastor, the teachers, the police, the firemen, the politicians and people in power locally, nationally and world wide.

Stay connected with Godly people. “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Heb 10:25 Remember that we are separate from the world, it is not our home, we are only passing through it. And the journey is easier with fellow travelers. We have been commanded to love one another as Jesus loves us.John 13:34 & 15:12 It was important enough that the gospel of John records Jesus saying it twice. And it isn’t a suggestion … it is a command. Find a Christian community where you can go to help and be helped, to be counseled and to council. Some days we’re the sheep and some days we are the shepherd.

Okay, here may be the hardest part of all. I said that we are separate from the world however, that does not mean we are not in the world. We need to reach out to those who are still lost, to those who have not heard or have not accepted the good news. Once we are standing on the solid ground of scripture we can lift others out of the muck and mire of this sinful world. Share! By your words, your actions, and deeds show the Christ within you to the world. And look for Christ in others. For example: it is a good thing to help someone in need; however, it is a great thing to do it as though you were doing it for Jesus. “As you have done to the least of these my brothers, you have done it for me.” Mat 25:41 Give, never expecting anything in return.Luke 6:34 Deal justly with the widow, the orphan the poor, and the alien in our land? So that we never hear the indictment, “Woe to you shepherd”. Amen.

 

Jeremiah, Jesus, God, Sermon, Prophets, False Prophets, Shepherds, Christians, Holy Spirit

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Saturday, July 11, 2015

What Moves You?

Sermon: “What Moves You?”

Singing, music and dancing before the Ark of the Covenant is mentioned three times in this passage (2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19*). I’ve learned that when scriptures repeat themselves it is because it is important. It is a way of telling me to slow down and think about what I’ve read. All scripture is given for our instruction … so what is this passage trying to teach me?

In our reading of second Samuel we learn that the Ark of the Covenant was being returned to Israel. A little history may be needed here.

The Ark of the Covenant was a gold covered wooden box which contained the Lord of Hosts, was surrounded by golden winged cherubim/angels. It was made to specifications given by God during the years of wandering after the children of Israel fled Egypt. It contained the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, a container of manna, and the covenant between God and Israel Moses’ writings on parchment.. From the area above the Ark God issued His commands for His people.

Some of you may remember the movie of Indiana Jones’ fictionalized search for the Ark. It was scary to watch the supernatural explosion that arose out of the opened ark. In the movie, there was a mixture of the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box and Revelation’s judgment day.

So, take away the special effects and what do we have? The most sacred words of God, if not God, himself, the Holy History of Israel, from the wilderness to the Promise Land and finally it is returned to the anointed King David.

In the fourth chapter of first Samuel we read how the Ark was captured by the Philistines. Israel was once again fighting a defensive war against the Philistine army … and they were loosing. So they decided to bring the Ark to the battle. Understand this was man’s decision and not God’s. They were using it like a good luck charm. And it didn’t work. The philistines won the battle and captured the Ark.

They took it and placed it next to the statue of their god. The next day they found the statue in pieces lying on the ground... Next the people started developing tumors. The Philistines kept moving the Ark from place to place. However, wherever it was taken, people died and had tumors. Finally they made arrangements to take the Ark back to the boarder with Israel and leave it there along with an offering. This is where today’s reading begins.

The Ark, literally the point of contact with God, was being returned, everyone’s enthusiasm was at a fever pitch. The musicians were working those lyres, harps tambourines, castanets, and cymbals. There were choirs of singers belting out praise songs. And David was getting his groove on and rockin’ to the tunes as the spirit moved him.Image result for sermon king david danced before the ark

David strips off all of his royal finery and dances exuberantly as the Ark of the Covenant is brought to its resting place in Jerusalem, the new capital. It is a dance full of life, celebrating the joy of the presence of God entering the city that will become the center of worship.

David wasn’t the only one moved to dance. The scriptures say all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might. Their joy turned to dance and music and the music and dance heightened the joy in a kind of feedback loop that just kept becoming more intense.

I have tried to imagine what that day was like to the people of Israel. Their point of contact with the living God was returned to its rightful place. Since we can go directly to God at any time, it is hard for me to imagine what the loss and then return of the ark did to the spiritual and emotional lives of those in that time and place.

It is hard to come up with a modern equivalent. Maybe a giant Super Bowl party after your team has won? Nope! That just isn’t big enough. Perhaps the celebrations at the end of World War Two would come close. Imagine the whole nation in exuberant celebration and feasting.

David’s dancing may have been part of a prolonged and complex liturgical procession. The details are long lost, but its intensity remains in the description of David's whirling and leaping. His gyrations almost convey a mood of desperation. David might well be terrified of the power of this Ark should anything go wrong before he got it home. After all, it was returned by the Philistines because of the catastrophes that seemed to follow it. And one Israelite has already died because he touched it.

Not everyone was moved the same way that day. Michal, David’s wife and the daughter of King Saul, had a negative reaction to David’s dancing in the streets. A superficial reading of the text makes it sound as if David must have exposed himself. What happened, in fact, is that David saw the return of the Ark as a solemn occasion. And he saw it unfit for himself to wear his royal garments, and instead he wore a very simple garment.

Michal seemed to be really angry for David’s perceived impropriety. However, we must look at the context in which this celebration takes place. God had turned his face against King Saul, her father, and God had blessed David and promised him a Kingdom and a Covenant that would last forever. That's part of the story in Samuel. It is not surprising that Michal would despise her husband David, because he was about to take her father’s throne, and she knew it.

A point can be made that David’s first and deepest allegiance was to God. And he saw it only fitting to dance in celebration of the God who had chosen him and his descendants to be a covenant partner forever. David felt it to be inappropriate to come as the King of Israel before God, - but rather as a common servant and partner with the people of God. Instead, David acknowledged the Kingship and Rule of God in Israel. In this context he perceived his royal garments to be an impediment to worship God in humility and truth.

When God calls us to be His covenant partners we are wise to remove all impediments that may stand between God and us. Rather than elevating ourselves before God, we are called to humility and awe before the God who has saved us. God is King! And He deserves our humblest devotion and praise.

As we celebrate and rejoice before God, as David and the Israelites did, we pass on the inheritance of our faith to generations yet to come. Our children and grandchildren will assimilate that which is most important to us. Therefore, may God’s praise flow richly from our lives.

We are chosen by Jesus Christ to celebrate God’s love and grace toward us. We are invited to be expressive in our gratitude toward God. The Christian life is a life of joy and celebration. It was the joy and hope that I saw in Christian friends that brought me to Christ. I wanted that peace that they had even in times of trouble.

When our lives are touched by the love of God, His grace flows into this world through the channel of our love, healing it, straightening its twistedness, mending its brokenness, and enlightening its darkness. That is the celebration of the Christian life - to touch the lives of others and so invite them to experience the blessings of God. We have been promised a cup overflowing. All of that “extra” is to be shared with those around us. Christianity is an outward looking religion. We received as so we share. We are servants not masters.

Our Lord invites us to be intentional about our celebration of God’s grace. Let us express God’s praise in every breath we take. Let us be a people who enthusiastically celebrate the goodness of God.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, Brown paper packages tied up with strings, These are a few of my favorite things.  Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels, Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles, Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings, These are a few of my favorite things.  Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes, Silver white winters that melt into springs, These are a few of my favorite things.

When you hear that list of favorite things did you have an emotional response to some or all of those? Sights, sounds, scents, touch, movement and more can elicit an emotional response. The reverse is also true. An emotion can lead to a physical response.

Imagine that you are driving along peacefully when some idiot speeds up to pass you and then slams on their brakes to take the next exit! Anger will make your jaw clench and your hands to ball into fists that pound on the steering wheel while you yell obscenities questioning his parentage. Don’t raise your hands, but does that sound a little familiar?

You are enjoying a sunny summer day listening to the birds sing. And then you receive a call that a close relative has died suddenly. Grief will make your shoulders slumped and your knees buckle and the day somehow seems darker and colder than before.

You are walking through an unfamiliar part of town and half of the street lights are out. Suddenly, someone steps out of doorway right in front of you. Fear will make you recoil and your arms go up in an effort to protect yourself.

You are watching the football game in your local high school’s stadium as your team plays against their arch rivals. The game is tied with only seconds to go when your quarterback throws a “hail Mary” pass that is caught in the end zone! Joy will make you jump and shout.

Music taps straight into our emotions and can lead us to highs and lows. Music moves us. It is hard wired into us. Watch a toddler wiggle and shake to music. I’ve seen Alzheimer and dementia patients who seem totally disconnected from the world tap their feet or move their hands to the rhythm of the music. Every Sunday throughout the world, Christians gather and sing together. Many are songs of praise and many are hymns full of solid theology. This sharing of words is a way to bring us closer to God and to each other. Singing together brings us into rhythm with each other. The repletion of the words can imprint on our unconscious mind in a way unlike any other form of learning. Andrew Fletcher, a Scottish politician and writer, understood this when he said, “Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.”

I often find myself whistling or humming the tune to a hymn. As I recall the words it helps to move me closer to my God. I wonder how our faith and the faith of those around us might be affected if we sang and danced our way to church. How would non-church people perceive us? Would they think we were drunk (as the crowds thought the disciples were on that first Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon them), or would they be so moved by the enthusiasm that they joined in?

What moves you? Is it the spirit of the world or the Spirit of God?

May God’s Spirit move us to be free in our celebration of Him who saves us, and who dwells in our midst.  Amen.

*2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.
6:2 David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim.
6:3 They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart
6:4 with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark.
6:5 David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

6:12b So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing;
6:13 and when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling.
6:14 David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.
6:15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
6:16 As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.
6:17 They brought in the ark of the LORD, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the LORD.
6:18 When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts,
6:19 and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

While most of this sermon is original material, I have borrowed some portions from helps found on www.gbod.org and from a sermon preached on July 15, 2012 By Rev. Dr. Deborah Lind-Schmitz At Covenant Presbyterian Church, Madison, Wisconsin. And, of course the words from the song, “Favorite Things”.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

How Big Is Your Giant?

Scripture Reference  1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
Message:         “How Big is Your Giant?”
I am a big guy.  I’m six feet tall and weigh close to 300 pounds.  I am neither the tallest nor the heaviest person in my family.  I come from a large family of large people so I’m not easily impressed by someone’s size.

Years ago I had a chance to see Andry the Giant.  He was a professional wrestler and also played the part of the giant (how’s that for type casting?) in the movie “Princess Bride”.  Andry was seven foot four inches tall and weighed nearly 500 pounds!  I was impressed when he stepped over the top rope of the wrestling ring.

A Google search reveals that the tallest man in modern times, Robert Pershing Wadlow at eight feet eleven point one inches tall.  Just short of nine feet!

Goliath was ten feet tall.  Which means that he would have looked down and patted Andry the Giant on the head and said, “Aren’t you just the cutest little thing!”

Even Robert Wadlow would have only come to Goliath’s shoulder!

I said that I’m six feet.  My wife is five feet tall.  So, if she stood on my shoulders, she could look Goliath right in the eye.  That would not be a good idea.

Not only was Goliath huge, but he was equipped for war.  He had his battle armor on.  He had his sword, shield and spear.  What a spear it must have been … with it’s five pounds of iron for a spear head.  A thing like that could kill you seriously dead!

He came up to the battle line and issued a challenge that he would fight any man of the Israel army.  If he won, then Israel would become slaves of the Philistines.  If the Israeli won, then the Philistines would become slaves of Israel.  Now that sounds like a civilized way to wage war: one man against another with winner take all.

Can you imagine if our political leaders went to war instead of sending thousands of people to do the fighting?  It might change the way we vote.  I think I’d vote for Chuck Norris!

So this giant stood taunting the Israeli army to send a challenger, of course, Goliath was certain that the odds were stacked in his favor.

Now think a moment … if the biggest guy on their team sent out a challenge … who would you send from your team?   Yep, the biggest guy on your team!

First Samuel 9:2 states that King Saul was head and shoulders taller than any other Israelites.  A little research into average heights for the time gives us and estimate that Saul was probably six-three to six-six.  If you were going to match the tallest against the tallest … he would have been the choice to take on Goliath.  

More over, Saul had the most to lose … his kingdom.  And the most to gain … a nation of Philistine slaves at his command.  Yep!  Saul was the logical choice.  However, When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.  Not just scared, but greatly afraid.  They had the trembling shakes, pee down their legs fear.  That kind of fear that creates a release of chemicals into your body that says, “Fight, Flight, or Freeze.”  It appears that Saul decided that it was better to fight the entire Philistine army than to stand mano a mano with Goliath. 

Saul’s giant was too big.

David came out to the battle line to bring lunch for his brothers.  He was the kid of the family, left at home to guard the sheep while his bigger, older brothers went to war.  Well actually no fighting had taken place because day after day Goliath would stand there and trash talk.

David hears the giant and thinks, “Oh this is gonna be good.  Who on our team is going to answer the challenge?”  Nobody.  Not even with the prize being the daughter of the king.  Nobody.

David, full of that fearlessness that teenagers have, boasts that he could take down this uncircumcised Philistine.  Word gets back to Saul that someone has been bragging that they’d fight the giant.  So, Saul sends for David.  But when Saul sees David, he dismisses him outright as too young and too small.

Now, I dearly love the conversation between David and Saul:  David said to Saul, "Let no one's heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine."  Can’t you just picture that in your mind?  David the kid, maybe still a teenager, strutting up to six-foot-something, Saul, King of all Israel, with all the brash fearlessness of youth.  He looked Saul up and down and said, “Don’t have a heart attack, Dude.”  Then tapping himself on the chest with his thumb says, “I’ll take care of your little problem for you.”

Saul said to David, “What’s the matter with you, Boy?  This monster has trained in the art and science of war since he was younger than you!  You have a death wish or something?”

David replied, “Dude, I’ve grabbed a lamb out of the mouth or a lion and then grabbed it by the main and beat it to death.  I’ve done the same with bears that attacked my flock.  God protected me then and he’ll protect me against this uncircumcised Philistne who has challenged the Living God of Israel.”

Saul said, “Okay, Kid, it’s your funeral.  But, here, take my armor and my sword.”

Have you ever seen a little kid dressed up in their daddy’s clothing?  The arms of the shirt dragging on the floor as he shuffles along in man-sized shoes and Daddy’s hat falling over his face?

That’s what David must have looked like in Saul’s armor and dragging his sword along the ground.  He shucks off the armor and dropps the weapons saying, “I can’t even move in this stuff.  I’ve got my shepherding stick and my sling.  That and God is all I need.”

The scriptures say that David ran to the battlefield.  There was no hesitation on his part.  He was sure that the victory was God’s and all David had to do was his little part.  So, while Goliath was trash talking, David declared that the Lord was gong to win this battle in an impossible way so that everyone on both sides would know that God was in control.

I saw a Youtube video of a martial arts expert verses a United States Marine.  Before the fight, the martial artist was doing back flips and high jumping kicks and all kinds of impressive moves to show the spectators and his opponent his skill.  The fight starts and the martial artist does a series of handsprings and somersaults as he attacks the marine, who just stood there.  Once the karate master was close enough, the marine hit him with one solid blow that knocked him unconscious.

That was much like the “fight” between Goliath and David.  Goliath had spent several days talking up the fight.  But David just rushed headlong into it and with one stone from his sling ended it.

David’s giant was miniscule compared to the size of David’s God.

How big is your giant?
What?  You’ve never faced a giant?
I have many times.

I remember as a young father facing a giant.  I was going to college and working full time.  I had a brand new baby boy at home that I wanted to spend more time with.  

I woke from sleep to a horrible, high pitched wheezing  sound.  It was my son struggling to breath.  

I went to his bassinet at saw that when he tried to inhale, his little chest caved in and turned concave.  I grabbed him and rushed him to the emergency room.  Within minutes they had him in an oxygen tent.  His mother and I sat beside him all through the night.  I would sneak my hand under the tent just so that I could touch him.  

I was so afraid of that giant called death that night.  I prayed and argued and bargained with God all night.  I gained a real appreciation of the Old Testament passage where Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord all night.  So have I.  

Jacob came away changed … he was even renamed Israel.  I was also changed that night.  I learned that there is peace in times of tragedy by turning it all over to God.  Amen.


Death and Taxes

Sermon:  “Death and Taxes” (Scripture references follow script)
You have probably heard Benjamin Franklin’s expression “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” 

In the 12th chapter of Mark’s gospel, we find the story of some Pharisees and Herodians coming to Jesus with the intent of trapping him into betraying either Jewish law or Roman law about paying taxes.  As always, it didn’t work out well for them.  Jesus looked at their coin and asked, “Who’s image is on it?”  (Jewish currency could not have images because of the Mosaic Law prohibiting “graven images”.)  The coin, being Roman currency had Caesar’s image on it. So Jesus said, “Give back to Ceasar what is Caesar's and to God what is God’s.” Clearly Jesus believed in the inevitability of taxes.

But just as clearly, he didn’t believe in death … at least he saw death differently than most of us do.

Here are some points to consider:
·       Genesis 1:31 “And God saw everything that he had made and that it was very good..
·       Wisdom of Solomon quote: “For God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity.”
·       We were created to be eternal as God is eternal.  That is, we were created to live forever.  What we call death is simply a passage into another part of that life. 
·       When God / Jesus speaks of death it is the eternal separation from God.  That is the true death.
·       2 Peter 3:9. We are told that, “The lord is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all come to repentance.”
·       Remember, “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.”

          Here is our story:  Jesus is being followed by crowds … Again!
As a preacher, I have to say that I’m just happy when people don’t rush out the doors at the end of the sermon … or worse … during the sermon.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to have y’all follow me around everywhere I went.  Yet that was what was happening with Jesus.  He would go into the local synagogue and preach, or he would go to a market place, or a hillside, or along the edge of the sea … and people just kept coming and following.

          It was his own fault, you know.  He kept telling people to follow him … to leave whatever they were doing … to leave behind family and friends … to put him at the top of their priority list.  And they were doing just that. 

          This Jesus, this God wrapped in human flesh must have been amazing to hear!  He spoke with authority … that is … he spoke as if he REALLY knew what he was talking about.  He laid his hands on people and commanded them to see, or walk, or be free of disease.  He commanded the spirits of evil to flee and never return.  Yep! He must have been amazing. 
         
          And yet there were also those who didn’t believe.  There were those that didn’t follow.  To them he was just another crazy person leading deluded people around the countryside.  A large number of those doubters and disbelievers were the clergy and leaders of the day.

          And yet, here at the sea shore, Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, came to Jesus for help.  He started by falling at Jesus’ feet.  This must have amazed people who knew ol’ Jerry as a powerful man in the community, a type A, top dog kind of guy.  To see him humble himself in this way was evidence that he was a man who knew he needed help.  A man who knew that he had reached the limits of his ability to deal with the situation. 

          I’m going to let you in on a secret!  If you didn’t know this about men, men don’t like to ask for help!  We don’t like to admit that there are limits to our abilities.  And this is never more true than for a man in authority.  All politics aside, can you imagine any president falling at anyone’s feet and begging for help?  And yet here is Jairus, at the feet of Jesus, pleading for the life of his daughter.

          Sometimes when people came to Jesus, or were brought to Jesus, he would take the opportunity to teach a lesson or make a point.  Not this time.  Jesus immediately turned and went with the man.

          And then … and then something strange and wonderful happened.  Someone touched him.  Well, really she wasn’t brave enough to actually touch him.  She only touched the hem of his garment.  She, like Jairus, came to Jesus with a need.  Unlike Jairus, she had no standing in the community. 
         
          For twelve years she had been hemorrhaging, bleeding.  By Jewish law she was unclean and unapproachable, untouchable.  Those who knew of her problem assumed that if she hadn’t healed, it was because of her sin.  It was assumed she was being punished by God for some unconfessed wickedness.

          No, though this unnamed woman was also coming to Jesus for help, she felt unworthy of taking any of his time with her problem.  But she believed … oh did she ever believe!  She believed that if she could just get close enough to feel his clothing brush against her … she would be healed!

          And Jesus, in the midst of the crowd, the crowd that was always there, always pressing closer, always wanting more from him … in the midst of all the bumping and jostling and pushing … Jesus said, "Who touched my clothes?" 

          Really?  I mean, really?  His disciples didn’t believe it either.  What could he mean, "Who touched my clothes?"  Everybody touched his clothes.  Everybody touched everybody.  It was a crowd, a milling, constantly moving sea of humanity.  How could he be asking,  "Who touched my clothes?" 

          It didn’t make any sense.  After all, he was on a life or death mission to go save Jerry’s daughter.  Why would he be concerned that someone had touched his clothers?  I can just see Peter scratching his beard and shaking his head.  What in the world could Jesus be talking about?  Why would he stop in the middle of this mission of mercy and ask such a strange question? 
          But the woman, hearing Jesus and the disciples and knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling.  Fear and trembling … she just realized that in her attempt to remain inconspicuous, she had touched him and received a healing.  Was that stealing?  Was she in trouble?  She was unclean and had touched this most holy man!  What would they do to her?
          She fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.  He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." 
          Two things happened here.  She was healed of her aliment and Jesus calmed her fears, “Go in peace.”  Far from being angry with her, he was sympathetic to her fears.  What an amazing God, Amen?  She came to him for healing but he knew that she needed more than a physical healing.  She needed peace.  She needed a calmness in her life that had been missing for twelve years!
          But now this little interlude is interrupted by people coming to say that Jairus’s daughter has died.  Too late!  Death is final.  End of story.  Game over.  Death and taxes.  His friends embrace him and say, “Sorry, Jerry, but it’s too late.  Don’t bother Jesus anymore.”
          Imagine the pain that this poor man felt.  He had gone agaist his very nature to humble himself before Jesus and now that act of contrision seems to have been for nothing.  His child that he loved and valued more than his reputation and more than his standing in the community, was dead!  I can imagine that his heart sank and his knees buckled.  His friends grabbed him from completely collapsing and help him begin the walk home.
          The scriptures don’t mention how far he had to travel to reach his home but it had to seem to him like the longest walk of his life.  And as he approached his house the sound of the mourners could be heard.
          You need to understand this little bit of Jewish tradition.  The higher your standing in the community, the more people came to mourn with/for you.  As a matter of fact, it was a custom to hire mourners to raise your standing in the community.  Since ol’ Jerry was a leader in the temple, there would have been quite a mob of people surrounding his house and wailing, sobbing, and crying out.
          As Jesus approaches, he asks, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." 
          Now the strangest thing happens … they laughed at him.  In the middle of this tragic scene, the mourners laugh.  For some it was just an emotional overload that caused the laughter.  But clearly, for many it was a laughter of derision.  It was as if they were saying, “Who is this fool who doesn’t no the difference between death and sleep.”  They truly did not understand or believe the power that Jesus possessed. (and still does)
          Jesus, always in control even in someone else’s home, chases the crowds outside.  He then took the child's father and mother along with his chosen disciples, and went in where the child was.  He took her by the hand and said to her to get up!  And get up she did.  She immediately got up. At this they were overcome with amazement. 
          Overcome with amazement!  What an understatement!  Mother and Father would have rushed to hug and kiss their loved one.  But the others?  Can you imagine their reactions?  A flood of emotions would have washed over them: wonder, puzzlement, fear, joy, awe …!
          What would you do if you saw a dead person stand up and start to walk?  Back away with outstretched arms to fend off the zombie apocalypse?  Fall to your knees in praise to God?  Or something in between?
          Jesus was well aware that often there is pain involved in the physical death.  In anticipation of his own death he sweat blood and asked the Father is there might be another way.  He also knew the pain of those left behind.  Which is why he brought people back from death on several occations.  It wasn’t done for the benefit of those who had died but for those suffering such grief at the loss of a loved one.
          However, as children of God, we should not fear the small death because we believe in a better life on the other side.

          There is a story by an unknown author going around the internet … perhaps you’ve read it.
IS THERE LIFE AFTER DELIVERY?
In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other, “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”
“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”
The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”
The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”
The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”
The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover, if there is life then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”
“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”
The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”
The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”
Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”
To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

          This little parable about life after delivery hopefully changes or reinforces your understanding of life and death  in the grander scope of God’s plan.
          Truly, Jesus does not see death as we see death.  Not even the physical death of our bodies is irreversible to God. 
          And the real death … the separation from God … has been taken care of by Jesus.  He has made a way for us to avoid the real death … the final death.  He paid our penalties for our sins which separated us from God. 
          All that is required of us is to believe in our hearts and confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord of our lives.  Once we have done that, we have no reason to fear the “little death” of our bodies, because we know that our life goes on in the presence of God.
          Though we may “walk with God” in this life.  It isn’t until the next life that it becomes perfected.  As Paul says in his first letter to the church in Corinth, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

          So, though we may still mourn the death of loved ones, we may also rejoice that they are now free from all worldly pain and problems.  The rest of their lives are filled with love and peace in full communion with their maker … as he intended from the very beginning. 

Hebrew Scriptures:  Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24
          God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.  For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.  For righteousness is immortal.

          For God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.

Gospel Reading: Mark 5:21-43
          When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea.  Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live."  So he went with him.
          And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.  Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.  She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.  She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.  Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned Jabout in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?"  And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, 'Who touched me?'" He looked all around to see who had done it.  But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.  He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." 
          While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?  But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe."  He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.  When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.  When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping."  And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was.  He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!  "And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement.  He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.