“You Can’t Take It With You, But You Can Send It On Ahead.” 1 Tim. 6:6-19. Luke 16:19-31.

Prince was an American entertainer known for his amazing music, flamboyant stage presence, extravagant dress and makeup. He was one of the top recording artists of all time selling over 100 million records. He died on April 21, 2016 of a prescription drug overdose, and his sizable estate has gone to probate. Over 700 people have filed claims as siblings, half siblings, and descendants. Nobody knows how many hundreds of millions Prince was worth, but one thing is clear: he left it all.  We may never have as much as Prince, but whatever we have, we, too, will leave it all behind. Job put it this way: “Naked came I into the world, and naked shall I go out.” Jesus said that we can’t measure the value of our life in the abundance of things we possess. What we have is only ours to manage on behalf of our Creator to Whom everything actually belongs. When our time comes, we will leave it all.

That seems to be the theme of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Many people quote this story in support of their belief in heaven and hell. Let me say at this point that, whatever your view of heaven and hell is, do not base it on this parable. The way to interpret a parable is to find the main point and stick to it. To try to score multiple doctrinal points based on a parable is foolish. The theme of this parable is the wise use of wealth, and we can profit from sticking to this idea.  

It certainly wasn’t wrong for this man to be rich. A popular American reality show asks, “Who wants to be a millionaire?” I’d raise my hand! I’d love to be a millionaire. We often hear, of course, that we can’t buy happiness. The Beatles sang, “Money can’t buy me love.” Fair enough, but you know, we often say, ‘don’t believe everything you hear.’ Yeah, I don’t know if you can buy happiness, but I’d rather try it myself than take someone else’s word for it!

Just kidding, of course, but I’m trying to make the point that it’s not wrong to be rich. The point of this parable is not that money is bad and poverty is good. What we have isn’t the point, but rather what we do with what we have. If all our stuff belongs to God, then, all joking aside, it’s a serious thing what we do with God’s stuff.

The Apostle John wrote, “Don’t love the world or the things that belong to the world. If you love the world, you cannot love the Father. Our foolish pride comes from this world, and so does our selfish desire to have everything we see. None of this comes from the Father. The world and the desire to have are disappearing, but if we obey God, we will live forever.” (1 John 2:15-17 CEV)

“We know what love is, because Jesus gave his life for us. That’s why we must give our lives for each other. If we have all we need and see other people who don’t, we must have pity on them, or else we cannot say we love God. You show love for others by truly helping them, and not merely by talking about it. (1 John 3:15-18 CEV)

So, this rich man, who wore expensive clothes and every day ate the best food, only used the wealth for himself. He thought it was his because he earned it, or because he inherited it, or because he had invested it, or whatever. This rich man never gave a thought to the idea, that what he had was really God’s, and that he should look for ways to use his wealth in God’s interests. 

In this parable both Lazarus and the rich man died, but their after life experience was not the same. The rich man asked Abraham and Lazarus for help, but when he found out that they couldn’t help him, he asked that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers. “Well,” Abraham said, “Your brothers can read the Bible for themselves.” 

“That’s not enough!” the rich man said. ” but if someone were to rise from the dead, they would listen and turn to God.” Abraham said, “If they won’t pay attention to the Scriptures, they won’t listen even if someone comes back from the dead.”

That’s the dilemma of evangelism today. We base the Christian message on the Bible, but people don’t believe the Bible. If only someone would be resurrected– now, that would make a difference, right? But Jesus did come back from the dead, and they didn’t believe that, either.

The problem is that, in general, people do not want to hear that their life is not their own, that they are bought with a price, and that they should order their lives around what God wants. They don’t feel they need God, so they go their own way.

We who follow Christ, however, realize that our lives belong to the Creator. We try to live in a way that will please God. Christ did rise from the dead, and because of that, we, too, shall rise. Now, we need to act as though we believe this.

We only have this life in which to do the things God wants us to do. Once we’re dead, we can’t come back. There are no do-overs as there are in the games that children play. Someone has said, “Only one life, so soon it will pass. Only what’s done for Christ shall last.” If we believe that’s true, let’s act like it. 

We pray. Lord of all we are and all that we have, we acknowledge that our lives are in your hands. Through Christ, You have given us richly all things to enjoy. By Your Spirit, help us to use who we are and what we have to please you. Amen.

“Spiritual Profitability.” Philemon 1-21. 9/4/2016. 

What’s it going to take for the Lord to turn a profit in our lives? Are we willing to lay it all out for the Lord?

Today, let’s learn about one of the lesser known characters from the Bible. His name is Onesimus, and we find out just a little about him in our reading today from the book of Philemon. Philemon was from Colossae, a small town about 25 miles inland from Ephesus, a major seaport in Asia Minor. Onesimus was a slave in the household of Philemon, and I’ve reimagined his story to add some detail to what might have happened.

You might know me as Onesimus, but you might be interested in knowing that my name means “profit,” not a prophet who is a spokesman for God, but a profit in the sense that a good investment is one that makes a profit. My father had a successful business and always had an eye to the profit and loss column in his accounts. He was so pleased when I was born, that he called me, his little profit. 

I wasn’t at all as good a businessman was my father, so when I inherited the business after his death, I quickly ran it into the ground. I had to borrow money to stay afloat, but I had one failed investment after another. When I was finally called to account by my creditors, I had nothing to pay. They threw me into prison for debt, and when no one came to redeem me, I was sold to Philemon from Colossae.

Of course, I hated being a slave. Philemon was a good master as far as that goes. He didn’t mistreat me, and the work he gave me to do wasn’t hard for a healthy young man such as I was. Nevertheless I hated being a slave.

While I was there, a new religion came to town. A preacher named Epaphras brought news of one called ‘the Christ,’ in whom could be found forgiveness for the past and hope for the future. The number of followers in this Christ was growing by leaps and bounds in Ephesus. I was more interested in getting ahead in this world than the next, so it meant nothing to me. Philemon became a follower of this Christ, and one day while he was gone to a meeting, I broke into his office, took money from his strong box, and ran away.  

I made my way to Rome. One thing about runaway slaves is that they can’t go to the countryside or to a small town. Everybody knows everybody in those places. They have to go somewhere big enough to get lost in, and Rome was the biggest city of all. There were people coming and going all the time. The money I took lasted for a while, but soon I was down on my luck again. This time I couldn’t borrow any money, so I stole it. I got caught, and I was thrown in prison.  

While there, I had time to think about my life. I had pretty well wasted every opportunity that had come my way. My life seemed all loss, and no profit whatever. When I found out that some of my cell mates were also followers of the Christ, I began to pay attention. Wouldn’t you know, it was that same Paul who had preached in Ephesus! I accepted the message of the Gospel, and became a follower of Christ myself. I had learned to be a personal servant under my master, Philemon, and I used those skills to serve Paul.  

Eventually, Paul found out my background, and when we got out of jail, he said I needed to go to Philemon and confess what I had done. I knew that meant I might be sent to prison or worse, but I wanted my life to be different now, no matter what it cost. Paul had written some letters to the churches in Asia, and also a personal note to Philemon about me. I didn’t want to leave, but Paul insisted and sent me off.

Several weeks later I arrived at the door of Philemon’s house. You can imagine his surprise. He never expected to see me again! He’d lost money on me as a servant, and even more as a thief. As an investment, I had been very unprofitable to him.  

He was amazed when I handed him Paul’s letter. In it, the Apostle had written that I had become more like a son than a servant to him, but that he had sent me back because it was the right thing to do. I could be a slave again, if that’s what Philemon wanted, but Paul urged him to accept me in the Lord for love’s sake. In that way, even though I had been unprofitable as a servant, I could finally live up to my name, and become profitable as a brother in Christ. To cover any losses Philemon had experienced because of me, Paul said to Philemon to put it on his account. He would repay whatever I owed. 

Philemon did accept me as brother and forgave me. I was no longer a servant, but a fellow Christian. The Lord’s investment in me had finally turned a profit. 

And that’s the way it is for all of us. The Lord has much riding on us: we all have talents and opportunities, but are we turning a profit for the Lord? Does Jesus get more out of us than he has put into us? That’s the definition of profitability: what’s left over after all the costs have been paid. God has accepted us in Christ and has frankly forgiven us. Our salvation may be free to us, but it cost God everything. If the Lord is going to show a profit in our lives, we need to give back what we have been given, and then some. It will take everything we’ve got.  

We pray. Dear Lord, all that we are and everything we have is a gift from you. Show us by Your Spirit to turn our lives and our possessions into a blessing to others. We ask this for the sake of Him Who gave everything for us, Amen.

A Cost/Benefit Analysis of Discipleship. Hebrews 13:1–8, 15 –16. Luke 14:1, 7–14. 8/28/16. 

There are costs associated with being a follower of Christ, but the benefits are far greater.
On this date, August 28, 1833, the Parliament of the United Kingdom abolished slavery throughout the British Empire. One provision of the Act was the payment of £20 million to reimburse slave owners for economic losses. That’s £70 billion today. Lest we be too surprised at the price tag, let us remember that our country fought an expensive civil war to accomplish the same outcome, and that we still deal with the racism today. Of course, there was more to the War Between the States than ending slavery, but it was one goal of the conflict. The Brits managed to abolish of slavery at a much lower cost.

Freedom for all British citizens didn’t happen overnight, but was the result of years of political negotiations that involved a complicated cost/benefit analysis. Such an analysis, known as a CBA, is a standard business practice. When business, government, or even families consider their expenses, they have to compare the value they hope to receive to the amount of money, time, or energy that will be required. There’s much more to a CBA, but this is the essence of a cost/benefit analysis: What am I going to get and how much is it going to cost?

Our Bible readings today point to a CBA of the practice we call discipleship. What benefits do we hope to receive for following Christ? How much will it cost? Is it worth it?

In Luke 14, Jesus attended a dinner at the home of a Pharisee. He watched the guests pick their seats, and he drew attention to the process. When we go to a wedding, Jesus advised, we should take a lower place rather than a higher place. If our hosts wish to honor us, they will give us a place of preference. That would be better than being asked to move to a less preferred seat.

Here the benefit is having a good seat. The cost, however, might be public shaming. In this CBA, it’s not worth it. Of course, Jesus was actually concerned about the value of humility over self-promotion, not getting a good seat at a social event.

In our day, self-promotion has a name. It’s Trumpism. I’m not making a political statement here. I’ll keep my voting preferences to myself, and you can keep yours, too. For our purposes here, however, it is worth noting that, in his book, The Art of the Deal, Mr. Trump wrote about the value of narcissism. This word is based on a Greek myth of a handsome young man who fell in love with his reflection and was turned into a flower called the narcissus. Mr. Trump has made much money selling licenses to use his name. He has to promote himself as rich, powerful, influential, stylish, etc. because that’s how he makes a living. Self-promotion is a business tool for Mr. Trump.

Jesus was saying that narcissism didn’t have much value as far as he was concerned. In his book, the last shall be first, and the end will be the beginning. Far from being self-promoting, Jesus promoted an other-centered life. This is best seen in the fact that he was willing to die for others that they might live. In this Cost/Benefit Analysis, Jesus saw great value in saving the lives of others even at the expense of his own. Unlike Narcissus, Jesus was not in love with himself: he was in love with us.

It’s that kind of life that Jesus recommended for his followers. If they were to give a banquet, he said, they shouldn’t just invite those who can pay them back. He advised them to include the poor and the disabled who can’t pay, then God would pay them back at the resurrection. There are good reasons that putting others ahead of oneself is to be preferred over putting oneself first as the way of following Christ.

First, putting others first is the example that Christ set for us. He didn’t ask anything of his disciples that he wasn’t willing to do himself. In the upper room on the night before he died on the Cross, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. That wasn’t his job, but he did it anyway. When he was done, he said, “Now that I, whom you call Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” 

Second, putting others first is consistent with living by grace through faith. In Romans 12:3 Paul wrote, “By the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” By grace through faith, we become disciples of Jesus, and these two virtues call us to a life of humility.

Third, putting others first is the best way to get ahead. This might seem counter-intuitive. The world tells us to “look out for #1,” and, “it’s every man for himself,” and “if we don’t look out for our own interests, nobody else will.” If we walk humbly with God, paying attention to the needs of others, there actually IS someone else who is looking out for our best interests. That person is Christ himself. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,” wrote Peter in 1 Peter 5:6, “God will exalt you at just the right time.”

It cost Parliament a good deal of money to rid themselves of slavery, but it was worth it to ensure the freedom of every British citizen. It will cost us something humbly to follow the way of Christ by putting the needs of others ahead of our own, but in due time, God will exalt us. 

We pray. Almighty God, Your Son has set an example for us in putting our needs ahead of his own. Now, by Your Spirit, help us to follow in the way He has led. Amen.

Enduring The Cross. Hebrews 11:32–12:2.  August 14, 2016.

Many who have followed the way of the Lord have suffered for their faithfulness to God. Their example encourages us to stay faithful no matter what.

On 28 July 1480, a force of 18,000 Ottoman Turks attacked the Italian city of Otranto. Defenders put up a strong resistance, but on 11 August, the city fell. As many as 12,000 died defending the city, and 5,000 went into slavery. Because the city had refused to surrender in exchange for leniency, the Turks decided to make an example of some of the defenders. They told 800 men to convert to Islam or be slain. They refused, so on this date they were executed. They are known as the Martyrs of Otranto.Hebrews 11 is sometimes called ‘the Bible Hall of Fame.’ It contains the names of many who performed mighty deeds by faith, suffered, and sometimes even died as a result of their faith. By the time the writer of the book of Hebrews reached vs. 31, he had barely enough room to mention them in groups and their deeds only in passing.

“What else can I say?” He wrote. “There isn’t enough time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. They all had faith, and that faith helped them conquer kingdoms and do other great things. They were also weak, however, and the good they did was because the Lord gave them the strength to do it.”  

“Some women received their loved ones back from death.” That might refer to the women who sheltered Elisha and Elijah. “Many of these people were tortured, but refused to be released, confident of a better reward when the dead are raised to life. Others were mocked and beaten with whips, and some were chained in jail. Still others were stoned to death or sawed in two or killed with swords. Some had nothing but animal skins to wear. They were poor, mistreated, and tortured, wandering in deserts and on mountains, living in caves and holes in the ground.” These statements could describe many of the prophets, of whom the world was not worthy.

Many people follow the way of the Lord with more or less normal lives, but others have paid a price for their faithfulness to God. God was pleased with them because of their faith, yet they died without being given what had been promised. God had something better in store for us, and did not want them to reach the goal of their faith without us.

These people were not perfect. Gideon was fearful. Barak was too timid to lead an attack on the enemy, Samson was strong, but couldn’t control his own lusts. Jephthah lost his daughter in a misguided act of devotion. David had too much blood on his hands to build the new temple. Samuel told other people how to live, but his kids didn’t turn out so good. No, none of them were perfect.

Yet, taken together, their lives witness to us about having faith and doing good. We might think that we could never serve the Lord as they did, but the lives of the saints aren’t meant to discourage us. In fact, they encourage to get rid of everything that slows us down. If we are too attached to the things of this life, we won’t pay attention to the things that have real importance. This is especially true with bad habits and wrong attitudes. We need to lay these things down and run the race before us. 

The important thing is to keep our eyes on Jesus. It is He Who leads us and makes our faith complete. He endured the shame of being nailed to a cross, because he knew that later on he would be glad he did. Now he is seated at the right side of God’s throne! 

I used to teach in a religious school, and religious schools are good at drawing lines. Do this. Don’t do that. Those statements teach that behavior up to a certain point is acceptable, but don’t go beyond that point. You know kids, though. They’ll stand on the line, and soon they’ll step over the line. Should we punish them or redraw the line? We don’t want to do either, so we say, “Look at the line! Can’t you see the line?”

Here in Hebrews, though, the Bible doesn’t tell us to look at the line. It says, “look at Jesus.” He’s with us at the start, and he’ll be there at the finish. We must look at Jesus. I used to tell my students, “If you look at the line, you’ll mess up, but if you look at the Lord, the line’ll take care of itself.” 

I’m not saying that we ought not to have standards of right and wrong, but we dare not think that these standards will save us. Christ, and Christ alone, can save us. If we focus on our standards alone, we will defeat ourselves, and we will disappoint all those who are around us. If we focus on the Lord, however, by faith we will come out right at the end of the race.

546 years ago, the Martyrs of Otranto, Italy, gave their lives for the Lord. Though we hope it never happens to us, we admire their example. I recently read this post on FaceBook: Find something in your life worth dying for, and then live for it. One comment read, “I’d die for the Lord.” That’s good, now live for the Lord. Another was, “My family.” That’s good, now live for your family. Another said, “My country.” That’s good, now live for your country. It isn’t easy to die for what one believes in. We hope we would be brave enough, but right now, let’s live for the Lord.

We pray. We look to you, Lord, as the author and finisher of our faith. On our own we are too weak, too prone to go the wrong way. Our attitudes and our actions betray our desire to serve you. Forgive us for our weaknesses, and help us to keep our eyes fixed on You. Enable us to bring the gospel of peace to people everywhere, Amen. 

Seeking A Better Country. Hebrews 11:8–16. Luke 12:32–40. 8/7/2016. 

Like Abraham, we are to be pilgrims serving God here and now, while seeking a better country to come. 

Due to disputes over the freedom to worship God in their own congregations, our Pilgrim forefathers set forth on this date to find a home in the new world. They arranged their passage on two ships, the Speedwell and the Mayflower. They had to return to port, because the Speedwell proved to be unseaworthy. After putting all the passengers and provisions, into the Mayflower, they embarked again on their journey. It was, in the words of one historian, the voyage from hell. Overcrowded conditions, inadequate food, and rough seas made a difficult passage. They were willing to endure it all, however, because they were seeking a better country.
We, too, are pilgrims of a sort. Our separation is not from ‘dear old England’ as the Puritans of old put it. Indeed, though they were related to the Puritans, the pilgrims had different goals. The Puritans sought to purify the world in which they lived, but the pilgrims sought to separate from it. When we begin to follow Christ, we are on a voyage. Our goal is not to improve the world in which we live, but rather to leave behind the world’s way of thinking and behaving. While we are living in this world, we seek a new way of life by grace through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection.

Our reading from Hebrews identified Abraham as a pilgrim, also. His faith in God motivated him to obey when the Lord told him to go to the land that God had said would be his. He had never even seen the country to which he was moving. Even after he got there, he continued to live as a stranger in the land of promise. He lived there in a tent, and so did Isaac and Jacob, who were later given the same promise. Abraham did this, because he was waiting for the eternal city that God had planned and built.

Even when Sarah was too old to have children, she had faith in God’s promise, and she had a son. Her husband Abraham was almost dead, but he became the ancestor of many people, as numerous as the stars in the sky or grains of sand on the beach.

All those people died, but they still had faith in God’s promise. They were content to think of these things as yet to come, and saw themselves as strangers and pilgrims on earth. When people think like this, it is clear that they are looking for a place to call their own. If they had been talking about the land where they had once lived, they could have gone back at any time, but they were seeking a better country. That’s why God wasn’t ashamed for them to call him their God. He even built a city for them.

We have this hope, too! Life is more than just a short trip from the cradle to the grave. Gravestones, you know, have names and dates. Those dates are separated by a mark that represents all that happens in our lives. We call it a dash, and it does seem like a dash, doesn’t it? In the summer Olympics there will be many 50 or 100 meter dashes that start with a bang and end at the ribbon. Life seems to be a short run, one that starts with a cry and ends with a gasp, yet, as followers of Christ, we have a hope that the race goes on, just on a different course.

Abraham was seeking a better country, so he was content to live as a nomad, staying in a tent and following his flocks and herds around. When our missionary, Geoffrey Lipale, was here from Kenya, I thought that, if Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were to come back from the dead, they’d have more in common with the people in Geoffrey’s church than with us! They live in temporary housing and follow their cattle from Kenya, across the desert to South Sudan, and over the river into Uganda. That was Abraham’s life, and he was content to live it, because he had God’s promise of a better country.

I mentioned earlier that we are Pilgrims in this world, and so, unlike the Puritans, we are not overly concerned with making improvements here. The fact is, however, that as long as we live here, we have a responsibility to take care of God’s creation the best we can. In fact, it would be a good rule to leave this world in as good condition or better than when we found it. We realize, however, than any improvements we make here in this world are only temporary at best.

That’s the example we have in Abraham. Though he looked forward confidently to a city with foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God, nevertheless, he dug wells for his flocks and herds, and even fought a war to end oppression. These things are not out of character for pilgrims. As we follow Abraham’s example of faith in our future home, we should follow his example in working for change in this life as well.  

The difference is one of attitude, not action. We don’t seek to improve this world because we’re afraid it’s all we’ve got. We improve it because it’s our responsibility, and because others will follow us. In this world we are called to be both hopeful and helpful. Our attitude of hope helps us to live contentedly now, knowing that something better is coming, and the very best is yet to be.

In light of this hope that we have in Christ, what manner of life should we now lead? Our Gospel reading records Jesus revealing two traits that should characterize hopeful and helpful disciples.  

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Fearless. That’s the first character trait that Jesus revealed here. Psalms 56:11 “In God I trust; I am not afraid.” Psalms 118:6 “With the Lord on my side, I do not fear.” Because of our hope of a better country, we can be free from fear and all its debilitating side effects, such as greed and hoarding. Being free from fear we are free to share what we have with others. 

If the first trait is to be fearless, the second is to be ready. Listen again to the words of Jesus. “Be dressed for action, and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds alert when he comes.” 

The second trait is to be ready. Here the Lord compares His return in the coming Kingdom to a wedding. A certain nobleman had gone to bring home his bride and expected his house to be well lit, and the servants waiting to serve him. 

Waiting rooms are anxious, boring places. Believe me, I should know as I’ve spent a great deal of my adult life in hospital waiting rooms. We often think of waiting rooms as places where nothing happens, besides speculating when the doctor might come. 

Here’s a different analogy, though. In a restaurant no one is busier than the waiters. They don’t just sit and leaf through old magazines. There are things to do, and so it is when we wait on the Lord. Waiting on the Lord means working for the Lord! 

Students of prophecy can spend hours peering at obscure texts speculating the exact moment of Christ’s return, but the Lord has work for us to do while we wait. Let’s get at our work, so we’ll be ready when the Kingdom comes. 

Hopeful, helpful, fearless, and ready. Those words describe the lives of those who are seeking a better country. We are waiting for the coming of the Lord; therefore, let us also be busy about the work of the Lord. 

We pray. Wonderful Creator, in Christ you have given us hope. Now by Your Spirit make us helpful as well, fearless and ready, so that we may effectively share the hope we have with others, while we seek a better country. Amen. 

Turning Disaster Into Delight. Hosea 2:14-23. Matthew 11:25–30. July 31, 2016

When King William III died, his cousin, Anne, became Queen of England. She initiated a general persecution of Congregationalists, because they refused to cooperate with the State Church. Daniel Defoe, who later became famous as author of Robinson Crusoe, defended the Congregationalists with a anonymous satirical pamphlet. The writing was very popular, and he was soon found out as the author. The government accused him of seditious libel, and, on this date in 1703, ordered him placed in a pillory. Because of his popularity, however, the crowds that gathered to watch his public punishment, pelted him, not with garbage and animal dung, but with flowers. It was later said of him that no one else ever stood in the pillory that was later raised to a position of honor and respect. His writing and his character turned what was meant as a condemnation into a means of advancement.Turning something bad into something good always makes a good story, but nowhere more dramatic in our text from Prophet Hosea today. He knew what it meant to be pelted with embarrassment and shame. His wife, Gomer, left him to become a prostitute. That would be bad enough for anyone, but since Hosea was a preacher, it looked especially bad for him. He was able later to redeem her from the sad life she had chosen, and his experience became a living illustration of the redemptive power of God toward wayward humanity. Our text for today has an extraordinary way of expressing it, but before we can get to the happy ending, we need to go back to the sad beginning, at a place called the “Valley of Achor.”

We’ve all heard how Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, haven’t we? That was hundreds of years before Hosea and Gomer, but it’s when it all began. After the famous walls of Jericho came a-tumbling down, Joshua sent a small detachment of soldiers to conquer an insignificant village called Ai. When his soldiers returned defeated, Joshua was discouraged and wondered how such a thing could have happened. Jericho was a great success, but now Joshua had doubts about going any further. 

Apparently, one of his soldiers, a man named Achan, had taken treasure from Jericho that belonged in the Lord’s service. Joshua confronted him, and Achan admitted that he had hidden the treasure in the ground under his tent. Joshua ordered Achan and all that he had into the Valley of Achor. He was executed and buried under a pile of rocks. The name is a play on words. Achan was the man’s name, and Achor was the place he died. The Valley of Achor means the Valley of Trouble.

Our next reference to the Valley of Achor is from Isaiah 65. This prophet referred to the Valley of Achor, the Valley of Trouble, as part of an oracle that he spoke to the leaders of his day, about 800 years before Christ. They had a form of religion, but the way they were living denied God’s influence in their lives. Isaiah warned them that they would be held accountable, yet, for all their brokenness, God still loved the people. Isaiah 65:8, “The plains of Sharon will become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for my people who seek me.”

The Prophet said that this place of disaster will become a place for herds to rest, a pleasant pasture where people can find God. The traces of fire that consumed Achan and all that he had were gone. The rock pile had become a green grassy knoll. It had become a place of peace and rest, a place where the herds could lie down. At the Valley of Achor, trouble had given way to tranquillity.

In our lives, too, trouble can surrender its grip on our lives as we look with faith into the face of our Savior. Stuff happens in life, but we don’t have to live there. By grace through faith, Christ can heal our brokenness if we let him.

That brings us to our text for today: Hosea 2:14-15. Speaking for the Lord, the Prophet Hosea said, “behold, I will speak comfortably unto her, and give her the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth.”

Hosea spoke words of comfort to his wife. It probably took months, maybe years, to get over the pain she had suffered. Perhaps she never got over it entirely, but she had God’s promise that the valley of Achor, the Valley of Trouble, would became a door of hope, and there she would sing again 

In place of damage, God gives healing. In place of despair, God gives hope. In the Gospel, the Lord speaks words of comfort to us. “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” 

The Gospel does not say that we will never be in the Valley of Trouble. The Gospel says that when we find ourselves in the Valley of Trouble, we don’t have to live there. God opens a door of hope, and there, we will sing. 

We pray. We all have been in the Valley of Trouble. Some of us are in the Valley right now. Open for us the Door of Hope, O Lord, where we may sing again. Amen. 

The Preacher and the Party Girl. Hosea 1:2–10. Hosea 2:1–7. Hosea 3:1–5. 7/24/16.

I want to tell you a story today about a friend of mine. We grew up in the same small town. It was the kind of place where everybody knows everything, a place where it’s hard to keep a secret. What I’m going to tell you was pretty well-known to most folks.His name was Hosea, and he was my best friend. It’s a common enough name where I’m from. It means “The Salvation of the LORD.” When we were kids we’d play together and have adventures like boys do everywhere. He was a lot more serious than I was, and took his Hebrew lessons to heart. Me? I had enough religion to be respectable. For all that, we were pretty close friends.

As we got older, we got interested in girls. I got engaged early to a farmer’s daughter, and our lives were pretty much planned out from the start. We knew we’d marry, have kids, and I’d work the family farm. It’s what folks usually did.

It wasn’t that way with Hosea, though. I suppose he always knew he’d be a preacher. At least none of us was surprised when he got the call to be God’s man. He was about as fine a person as I ever knew, and I was proud to call him my friend.

There was something unusual about him, though. From very early on, he had his heart set on the one girl in town who was known as a wild child. Her name was Gomer, and it seemed strange, him being so serious, and her being so, well, flighty would be one word for it. None of us ever thought she’d make a very good preacher’s wife. She teased and flirted with all the boys and got a real reputation in our small town. Still, Hosea was as serious about her as he was about everything else in life.

He finally got her to marry him. She seemed to settle down at first, but it wasn’t long, before she just wasn’t content to stay at home. They even had three kids, but one day, she up and left him. Went to the big city she did, and rumors were flying about her lifestyle there. It was hard on Hosea. Everybody talked about them, and, though they felt sorry for the young preacher and his children, they all seemed to know this was going to happen, and in a way, it served him right for marrying her in the first place.

When Hosea did go out to preach, he used his experience as a example of how the people of Israel treated God. He said that they hadn’t been true to the Lord, and had wandered away as an unfaithful wife. His speech made everybody uncomfortable, but that’s the way it is with prophets. Their sermons can pierce you right through, and, though you may not like it, you know what they’re saying is true.

We all felt bad for Hosea, but we figured it was best for him just to raise the kids by himself. It came as quite a surprise, then, when he told me that the Lord wanted him to redeem Gomer from the life that she gotten herself into. “It’ll cost you plenty,” I warned him, but he said it was the right thing to do.

It seemed that her party life had played out, and now she was just another body to be used by whoever had the coin to pay for her. She remembered those good years when she and Hosea were first married. She often wished she could go back, but she knew she couldn’t. She had convinced herself that Hosea wouldn’t want her, and besides, she owed service to her master. Life hadn’t turned out the way she thought it would.

When Hosea found the squalid place where she worked, he went to the master of the house and said he wanted to redeem her. The owner looked him up and down. “You can have her if you want her,” he jeered as he took the 15 silver pieces and several measures of barley. Hosea made his way down a dark hallway. Several doors opened off the hall, each covered by curtain, with a lit candle when a girl was available.

He stepped into her room. She didn’t even look up. She thought he was just another customer, until he spoke her name. She knew him then, but she curled up in the corner and cried. She was so ashamed. She did not want him to see her like this, but he spoke tenderly to her. “I’ve come to take you home,” he said. “I couldn’t go with you even if I wanted to,” she sobbed. “The master of the house would never let me go.”

“Oh, he’ll let you go all right,” Hosea assured her. “I’ve paid the price, and you don’t owe him anything. I mean to take you home, home to stay, for good and all.” So she gathered her few belongings and left with Hosea. The landlord laughed at them as they left his establishment. Gomer shook with fear, but Hosea put his arm around her. “Pay no attention to him. He can’t hurt you now,” and then he brought her home.

The story of Hosea and Gomer is the story of God and wayward humanity, too. In the story of Hosea and Gomer, love wins. Thank God that love wins for us, too. 

Because of love, Hosea paid the price of redemption so that Gomer could go free. Because of God’s love, Jesus paid the price of our redemption, too. We can’t afford to redeem ourselves from the thoughts, words, and deeds that are outside of God’s will. Though we may not have wandered as far as Gomer did, we, too, need to be redeemed. Redemption by grace through faith sets us free. 

It’s the way love wins. 

Who Is My Neighbor? Colossians 1:1–14; Luke 10:25–37. July 10, 2016.

The answer to the question, “who is my neighbor?” is: people who are hurting, whose injuries call for our compassionate response. Those people are our neighbors.

I attended the 62nd Annual Conference of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches held in Detroit two weeks ago. Congregations across America formed this association in 1955 as a means by which likeminded, yet independent and autonomous churches could work together without sacrificing their individuality and character.Messengers from congregations across the country gather to attend to organizational matters, to hear reports from mission work at home and abroad, and to enjoy fellowship with one another. We received instruction and inspiration from both our Bible sessions and our Congregational lecture. I was happy to represent our congregation at this gathering.

There was great unity at our meeting. At the first business meeting, when the moderator was reviewing the standing rules of order, one of the messengers brought a motion to the effect that all motions and resolutions that were not unanimously passed be subject to a division of the house, that is, a show of hands or standing vote. This was approved, and I am happy to report that all votes passed unanimously. We also approved 10 new congregations for membership in the National Association.

I feel a bit like Paul, whom we heard earlier in his letter to the Colossians. He didn’t get to see these brothers and sisters in Christ. Early in his ministry when the Christian movement was small, he went to every congregation. However, as the redemptive message of Christ’s death and resurrection flourished in the ancient world, there were congregations he’d never been to. The Colossians’ church was one of these.  

To them he wrote, “Each time we pray for you, we thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have heard of your faith in Christ and of your love for all of God’s people, because what you hope for is kept safe for you in heaven. You first heard about this hope when you believed the true message, which is the good news.”

Like Paul, we congregational messengers at the conference heard that the good news is spreading all over the world through the National Association. Our missionaries gave encouraging reports of God’s work, just as Epaphras had given. Paul was thrilled to hear that the message of Christ had spread in that same way among the Colossians, ever since the first day they learned the truth about God’s grace.

We were also challenged to consider the question: “Who is my neighbor?” This question arose in Luke 10 when a man asked Jesus about eternal life. Jesus asked him what was written in the Bible. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind,” the man replied, “and love your neighbor as yourself.” “Do this and you will live,” Jesus said. “But who is my neighbor?” the man persisted. Jesus then told this parable about a Samaritan who helped an injured man, after a priest and a levite ignored him when he needed help.

Before we go any further, I want to highlight something that is easy to overlook in the way we talk about this parable. Jesus never called this story ‘the Good Samaritan.’ It’s something that we have added in the years since Jesus originally told it. A better title for this parable might have been “The Priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan.”

We’ve heard many times about the animosity of the Jews and the Samaritans. For a Jew to call another Jew a Samaritan was an insult. In John 8:48, the Jewish leaders said this to Jesus: “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed on top of it?” Biochemist and author Isaac Asimov wrote, “To the Jews, there were no good Samaritans.” The level of ill-will between these two groups was off the charts. Jesus was not prejudiced himself, but was using the prejudices of his listeners to make a point. 

What if this story had been told in a different time and culture? In the 1800’s this story might have been called “the Good Indian.” The 1900’s might’ve called it “the Good Negro.” Maybe today the story might be about “the Good Muslim.” The point is that people often view minorities in a bad light, with an occasional exception, you know, the good one. Again, Jesus did not say this. The idea that there was one Good Samaritan was added later.

If we could see the Samaritan beside the priest and the levite, we’d be hard pressed to tell them apart. They would’ve looked very much alike to us. In this parable Jesus revealed where the real difference between them lay. We find it in the verb, “had compassion.” This word in Greek is the word, spleen. The ancient people thought the spleen was the center of emotions. When they cared about other people, they had a spleen. In a word, they had compassion.

The difference between the priest, the levite, and the Samaritan wasn’t racial. It wasn’t something that could be seen. It was internal. Quite literally, this verse says that when he saw the injured man, the Samaritan had a spleen. Apparently, neither the priest nor the levite had a spleen. 

Our real spleens lie in the upper left abdomen. They’re reddish-brown and somewhat elongated, about 1″ x 3″ x 5″. Virtually all vertebrates have spleens. They remove old red blood cells and keep a supply of blood in reserve. As part of the lymphatic system, they support the immune response by processing antibodies. 

Surgeons often remove spleens from people who have abdominal injuries. People can live without their spleens, though not as well as with them. A study of 740 World War II veterans who had their spleens removed due to battlefield injuries showed a significant increase in the death rate from pneumonia.

Pneumonia is a disease of the breathing system. In fact, pneuma means breath, but in the Bible it is usually translated spirit. Just as the veterans without spleens had trouble getting their breath, so Christians without compassion have trouble getting the Spirit. Without the Spirit, we may experience spiritual death.

Christians who have no compassion have had spiritual splenectomies. They can see the worst catastrophes and not have a spleen about it, that is, they have no compassion. They sigh and say, “oh, isn’t that terrible,” and they change the channel. Like the spleen-less priest and levite, they walk away on the other side. They have no spleen.

The answer to the question, “who is my neighbor?” is this: people who are hurting, whose injuries call for our compassionate response. Those people are our neighbors. If we don’t have a spleen, if we don’t have compassion, we’ll walk away. Without compassion, however, we won’t be able to get the Spirit. It goes both ways: our neighbors are people who need help, and we need to help them. 

The water situation of Flint, Michigan has been much in the news. We at the Annual Conference felt compassion on the residents of that city not far from Detroit where we were meeting. You might say it aroused our spleen! We collected hundreds of gallons of water and close to $5,000.00 to purchase water filters which will be distributed free by a reputable non-governmental agency there. The people of Flint are our neighbors.

“Who is our neighbor?” The answer is that anyone who has a need, is our neighbor indeed. Let’s have compassion on others, even as our God has had compassion on us.

We pray. O God, you looked down on us and saw our need. You were moved with compassion and sent Your Son, Jesus Christ, to help us. We thank You for doing this, even though our attitudes and actions were and are often offensive to you. Enable us by the Spirit to be moved to help others around us who are also in need. Amen.

Canceled Debt. Galatians 2:15–21; Luke 7:36–8:3. 12 June, 2016. 

We are forgiven by faith in Christ and set free to live the kind of life God has for us.
There is a crisis gripping America, one which affects approximately one out of every five Americans. It’s a crisis of debt, medical debt, which accumulates to over 100 billion dollars per year. This debt is sold by doctors and hospitals to bill collecting agencies for pennies on the dollar. These agencies are legally empowered to collect those debts. They can and will call at any time of the day or night. They plead, they threaten, they cajole, they call your boss, your relatives, even people who rent the house after you move out. They will do whatever it takes to get at least one payment. Often people do make a payment, but then the remainder of the debt can be sold to another agency, then another, and so on. 
Of course, insurance can help, but it does not always pay the whole bill. It’s true that these folks should have paid their bills in a timely fashion, but medical expenses can be exorbitant, and sometimes illness results in job loss. With no income, how are people to pay? Loss of insurance often accompanies loss of employment. It’s a dreadful cycle that leads to poverty and ruined lives. 

Borrowing does not make us debtors, however. We are only in debt when we don’t pay it back. When we take out a house mortgage or car loan, we are actually signing a contract. As long as we meet the terms of the contract, we are not in debt.

God has loaned us life. The terms of this loan are that we should live our lives for God. That doesn’t mean that everyone of us should go into the ministry, but it means, in the words of Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for people, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.” We often hear, “it’s my life, and I can do with it whatever I want.” That’s not right. It’s not our life; it’s God’s life, and the trouble is that we are in debt, for we have not met God’s terms for our life loan. 

In Bible days, people had dinners outdoors. Houses were small and windowless. Inside, the air was stuffy and full of the odors of cooking food, unwashed bodies, and maybe the donkey tied it front. Nicer houses had a courtyard surrounded by a low wall. When Simon the Pharisee had this party in honor of Jesus, everyone walking on the street outside the wall could see who was there and even interact with them.

A woman came to Jesus while he was having dinner with Simon. She was so overcome with Jesus’ message of God’s love and acceptance for all people, that she responded by honoring Jesus as best she could. Simon was offended at this. He knew what she was: a sinner. Of course, we’re all sinners, but for him to identify her in this way meant he thought her sexually immoral. He didn’t say it out loud, but Jesus could tell what he was offended by this woman who had interrupted his nice dinner party.

Jesus told Simon a parable. Two debtors owed a certain moneylender varying amounts, one greater, the other lesser. For reasons known only to himself, the lender canceled their debts. “Which one, do you suppose, loved the lender more?” Jesus asked. Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” 

“Have you noticed this woman?” Jesus continued. “You didn’t give me any water to wash my feet. But she washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but she has not stopped kissing my feet. You didn’t even pour olive oil on my head, but she has poured expensive perfume on my feet. So I tell you that all her sins are forgiven, and that is why she has shown great love. But anyone who has been forgiven for only a little will show only a little love.”

He then said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” This caused even greater scandal, for only God can forgive sins. Jesus ignored the others, and focused on the woman. “Your faith has saved you,” he said, “Go in peace.”

Only God can forgive sins, and it’s a good thing that God does. Otherwise, we would have no peace. As it is, by grace through faith, God forgives us for not meeting the terms of the loan of life. Through forgiveness, we have peace with our Creator, and that peace enables us, whatever we do, in word or deed, to do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

We no longer owe a legal debt, but a debt of love. We don’t live in fear of penalty for non-payment. We have no fear of repossession, of dunning calls from the bill collector of our souls. God isn’t some collection agency who calls and threatens us for non-payment. Through Christ, we are free from fear, so now we can afford to live the kind of life God wants for us. We can live in love: love for God and love for others. 

Jesus said it was this woman’s faith that saved her. In Galatians 2, we read earlier, “We are not put right with God by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Observing the law puts no one in right standing before God, but only having faith in Christ.”

The Galatians came to Christ through Paul’s preaching. Other preachers tried to convince them that the way to please God was by legalism. Paul, however, insisted that God accepts us by grace through faith in Christ alone. The Galatians had been set free by the Gospel, and Paul was not willing to see them exchange their freedom in Christ for the bondage of legalism. 

The Law with its list of “do this” and “don’t do that” doesn’t offer us any peace. It only shows that we are sinners. When we try to find life through legalism, we find only death. Through grace, however, we discover the life that God wants us to have. 

John Oliver, the talk show host, recently had a program about the debt issue. As a comic, he loves a good stunt, so, to illustrate the situation, he bought $15 million in bad debt for $60k. He had the right to call everyone on the list he’d bought and get them to pay. Instead, he erased it all! $15,000,000 in debt disappeared, and 9,000 people were set free! They don’t know that their debt has been paid, so John Oliver contacted RIP Medical Debt who will tell the good news to people on the list. 

When the Romans crucified people, they posted a notice explaining their crimes. Jesus had such a notice on his cross. Paul said that we, too, were crucified with Christ. The Law is the notice of our crimes. When Christ died, we died, too, but now we live by faith in the son of God who loved us and gave his life for us. The notice of the Law is no longer in effect.

Our task as followers of Christ is to let people know that their debt has been forgiven, that the notice of the Law is no longer in effect. When they hear this, they can be at peace. That’s why it’s called “Good News!”

Sometimes churches down through history have substituted legalism for grace. They’ve insisted that God can only be pleased if we keep a list of do’s and don’ts. Sometimes they get their list from Old Testament law, but sometimes they make up their own list. Wherever it comes from, legalism has damaged the testimony of the church.

The Christian life, however, is not about lists, but about love. Because we are forgiven, we can afford to love God and to love one another. Let’s not argue with one another or judge one another. Let’s just spread the Good News!

We pray. Lord of life and God of love, You did not lend us this life so that we could spend ourselves into debt. Through Christ, You have delivered us from the accuser of our souls. Now without fear, we rely on your Spirit to guide us into lives of love. Amen.

Rise Up! Galatians 1:11–24. Luke 7:11–17. June 5, 2016.

Jesus raised Paul from dead legalism to a life of grace. Jesus raised the young man of Nain from death to life. God raises us to new life in Christ.
Today is the birthday of the Marshall Plan. In a speech at Harvard University on this date in 1947, United States Secretary of State George Marshall called for economic aid to both our allies and our former enemies. The war had devastated Europe. Bombing had badly damaged the major cities, especially industrial facilities and critical infrastructure. More than five million houses and apartments were in ruins, and food was in short supply. Millions of people lived in refugee camps, subsisting on 1,500 calories per day. The Marshall Plan was crucial in bringing those countries back to life.
From death to life! That is the theme of our readings today; indeed, it is the underlying message of the entire Christian gospel! Jesus came preaching God’s reign over the hearts and minds of people who would follow Him. To participate in the coming kingdom, they would need a radical re-orientation of their lives. This is illustrated by Paul’s experience in coming from a rigid adherence to the Law that brings death to the message of grace that brings life.

The Apostle Paul was a man who was steeped in the study of the Jewish Law from childhood to adulthood. He was from the city of Tarsus in a part of the world known as Asia Minor, though today it is called the country of Turkey. The Jewish people had been scattered all over the ancient world from Asia to Europe and Africa. They had settled into their adopted communities, but never forgot their homeland. We call this dispersion of the Jewish race, the diaspora. Paul was part of that diaspora.

He was of the tribe of Benjamin, and had dedicated his life from early on to be a teacher of the Law. He followed the Pharisees, which was one of the major sects of Judaism. Many rabbis came from this movement and taught in the synagogues. Though he was known among the Gentiles by the Roman name, Paul, he received the Hebrew name, Saul, at birth, in honor of King Saul, the greatest Benjamite who ever lived.  

Tarsus was a city of political, economic, and military significance. Caesar named it a colonia, a formal title that gave its citizens the rights and privileges of those who lived in the city of Rome itself. Ex-legionnaires could settle in a colony and expect to find work and other benefits when they retired from a life of war across Rome’s vast empire. 

From his childhood, Paul had studied the Law of Moses. In fact he was well-versed in all the sacred writings of the Jewish faith. As a young man, he had gone to Jerusalem where he studied the Law all the more intensely under Gamaliel, a well-known rabbi himself and a mentor of young men preparing for the ministry. Paul was a sincere and enthusiastic follower of the religion of his people. 

He lived at the same time as Jesus, but it does not appear that he ever heard the Master speak or see any of his miracles. We don’t find out about Paul until, as Saul, he began to persecute the newly-founded church in Jerusalem. “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the tradition of my fathers,” he wrote. This included arranging for the death or imprisonment of any and all church members. Until he personally had a vision of Jesus, he saw Christ and his followers as a hindrance to Judaism.

When he finally came face to face with Jesus, his life was totally transformed. The experience humbled him. “God called me by grace,” he wrote. He was ashamed of his life before Christ, even referring to himself at one point as ‘the greatest of all sinners.’ He felt that his former experience was more like death, and that by grace through faith in Jesus he had come to life. He redirected his former zeal to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His life was changed: he was a new man with a new mission!

Not only was he changed inwardly, but he also experienced an outer transformation. Previously, he had tried to destroy the church; now he wanted to be part of it. Considering that he had been their worst nightmare, they were understandably wary of him. His change, however, was so amazing, that the report about him began to spread. “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he tried to destroy,” is what they were saying, and praised God because of him.

We can experience a similar transformation in our lives, too. It may not be as dramatic as Paul’s. After all, none of us has tried to destroy churches! When we begin to follow the Lord, however, we, too, can be changed. Will it show on the outside? Again, though it may not be as dramatic, our lives certainly will feel the effect of our faith.

Our gospel reading concerning the widow’s son of Nain also carries the theme of coming from death to life. In this case, it literally involves life restored from the dead. 

Jesus and his disciples were on their way to the town of Nain, and a big crowd was with them. As they came near the city gate, they saw people carrying out the body of a widow’s only son. Many people from the town were walking with her.

The loss of any child is tragic. Grieving parents feel the pain the rest of their lives, if the child is 6 months old or 60 years old, whether an only child or one of many. This mother, however, felt the loss all the more keenly because she was a widow, and this was her only child. Her husband’s death left her dependent on her son. Now she faced an even bleaker future. The death of any child is awful, but this death especially so.

When the Lord saw the woman, he felt sorry for her and said, “Don’t cry!” Jesus went over and touched the stretcher on which the people were carrying the dead boy. They stopped, and Jesus said, “Young man, rise up!” The boy sat up and began to speak. Jesus then gave him back to his mother.

The text says they were frightened: terrified might be a better word! Can you imagine being a pallbearer carrying the casket out when the deceased pops open the lid and says, “Hey! What’s up?” It’s a wonder they didn’t drop him and run! 

New life from death can be startling! Those around us may not know how to take us! Nicky Cruz, gang leader of the Mau Maus in New York, was converted to Christ under David Wilkerson’s ministry in the 50’s. Before his conversion, however, his girlfriend junkie came clean. He said to her, “I liked you better when you were a junkie! I know junkies! You’re a fanatic! Nobody from our turf ever became a fanatic!” When we begin to follow Christ, others may not understand us, yet through kind words and acts of compassion, we may convince them to follow the Savior, too.

Not all of Europe received the aid offered by the Marshall Plan. The Soviet Union and their satellite states refused to accept any help from the U.S. or Canada. People in Eastern Europe continue to suffer for decades to come because the communists were afraid of American influence.  

We won’t convince everyone to follow Jesus, but those who do will find as we did, new life and hope. In word and deed, then, let us be faithful to the message of Christ.

We pray. Lord, we desire to move from death unto life. We long to be made new, both inside and out. Spirit of God, do your work within us by grace through faith, that we might be your people not just in word, but in deed and in truth. We pray through Christ our risen Savior and source of life, Amen.