Grounded in Christ — Sent to be a Blessing.

Zion Lutheran Church

A Persistent God

Persistence

Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Genesis 32:28

Have you ever had a friend or family member with whom you had a messy relationship? You know the kind. Things are going well and you get along. Then they aren’t. But you are too connected and too committed to just give up on the relationship – it is a part of who both of you are and there’s no denying it. So you stick it out and some amazingly wonderful things happen. And some bumps happen. It is uneven and a bit unnerving. But it is authentic and your love and friendship for each other is real. And so you persist.

That’s the way Jacob’s relationships are. He is a bit volatile and a bit fragile. But he is persistent and refuses to give in to much. Even God is impressed with his stamina. And so God blesses him – not because he is the perfect role model but because Jacob is tough enough to not just throw in the towel and quit. God needs someone whose nature is to keep going and Jacob fits the bill.

Jacob will go on to be named “Israel” as a result of his encounter with and wrestling with God. It will be the name given to his ancestors and the nation they inhabit. Like Jacob, it will be their toughness and durability that will be a trademark of their existence. And from within their midst will rise the Messiah, one strong enough and committed enough to love the world in a way that would change it forever, even when the world would push him away and eventually kill him on a cross.

God likes persistence because God is persistent. If we are to live in the image of God, we need to be persistent. It is not always easy to press into the future. Not all of us will have the same stamina nor face the same circumstances. But whether we succeed at being persistent or not, one thing all of us can count on: God will be persistent with us. Sometimes, that has to be enough.

Thanks be to the God who persistently pursues us with the love we find in Jesus.

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Blessed to Need Each Other

Needs C

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” (Genesis 2:18)

Ask most people what God did when God saw that Adam was alone and they will talk about Eve. But first God started with animals. God gave Adam a wide variety of animals and charged Adam with the task of naming them. When it was over, Adam was still not satisfied. Adam did not need something to be in charge of – Adam needed someone who could be a partner and a peer.

So God took another tact and used a rib from Adam to make a woman. Having a partner and a peer would prove to be the action that would change everything.

We often think that this text is about the formation of genders – male and female. And of course, the story includes that. But there is something deeper that may provide us a clue about what God was up to when God made humankind and what God hopes for us as a result.

When God said, “It is not good…” this is the earliest reference in scripture to something not being good. Up to this point, everything is referred to as “good.” And the key thing that is the initial “not good” is aloneness. God sees that just as God contains a relationship with God’s self (the Trinity), so humankind is essentially relational. Without relationships with others, each person is in a “not good” place.

Adam’s needs open him up to receiving “help” from someone else. It is needs that point us outside of ourselves and open us up to receive from each other. We often think of needs as a signs of weakness. This is particularly true in American culture, where “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” is practically a mantra for being a real American.

But needs are apparently not signs of weakness. They are woven, by God, into the fabric of creation and it is God’s intention and hope that we will all have both gifts and needs and then share our gifts to assist each of us in our needs. The result is a mutual way of living, where we are drawn out of ourselves by our needs and receive from others as they share their gifts with us. Likewise, we offer ourselves to others in their needs with our gifts. The result is a community where we are drawn to each other and together reflect the goodness of God.

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Sabbath – The Sacred Rhythm of a Healthy Life

Sabbath and Rest

And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3)

Scripture teaches that rest is built into the fabric of creation. It is part of the rhythms of life that are grounded in who God is and how God works. These things are then seen as “blessed” and “hallowed,” words that speak to the sense that Sabbath is more than just a good idea – it is a sacred one.

Studies of Americans show that sleep deprivation is a serious issue. People work too much, stay up too late, and sleep too little. Binge sleeping on a Saturday to catch up isn’t enough. Rest is important and sleep enhances the body’s ability to recover and to function well.

We often ascribe words to God like “almighty” and “omnipotent” or phrases like “the most high.” They are word that describe how strong and amazing God is. Yet scripture paints a more nuanced picture of God. Yes, God is amazing and capable of much – perhaps anything. But at the same time, God is not able or perhaps simply not willing, to just take care of everything and work all the time. After something big like creating the world, God steps back and takes a break.

God sees this act as a sacred beginning to the way we created creatures should structure our lives. Working all the time without a break is exhausting. Working all the time means too little time to step back and take stock of what is. Working every day limits our ability to recover and eventually weakens us. We need rest and we need to build it in routinely and with regularity.

One of the ways church life helps us with this is by calling faithful people to gather each week. By ordering our week in this way, we ensure that our attention will not be on work but on something else. We are reminded who we are and whose we are. And then we are sent out to return to the world of Monday through Saturday life where we do the work of God before stopping, resting and renewing again next week.

Sabbath refreshes and provides a rhythm to our lives. God needed the break. God knows we do too.

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Believing Changes What We See

Hebrews 11-1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

Faith is the most amazing thing. Believe it or not (pun intended), everyone has some kind of faith. We all believe in something. And what we believe impacts what we see and what we hope to and expect to see

Saint Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

What we believe shapes our worldview. While it has been said that seeing is believing – it is often not true. Ask two people who saw the same thing to tell you what happened and the story you get will be as much a reflection of what they believe as what they experienced. We see this as we interpret what is happening with race, border issues, class and all sorts of places in our world. One person with one belief system about how things are and should be shares the story one way. Another person with different beliefs shares it completely differently.

As Christians who trust that the God we meet in Jesus has changed everything, we see the world differently. God is working on something amazing in our world – the reign of God. We know it is coming because we know we carry the assurance of things hoped for. And we can hopefully see the world in which we live through the eyes of a God who loves us, loves our neighbors and has come in Jesus to connect us, heal us and make us whole.

We long for a world that is the way God promises it will be. The death and resurrection of Jesus ensures that we will indeed receive that promise. Our faith in that assures that what we long and hope for will come to be.

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Jesus – We Find Perfect Love in Suffering

Suffering of Jesus

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (Hebrews 2:10)

Perhaps it seems odd to you to think about Jesus (referred to in the verse above as “the pioneer of their salvation”) as being made perfect through sufferings. Because we often think of Jesus as perfect already, why would the author see Jesus being made perfect in the process of suffering at the hands of sinners?

But life is by nature fragile and suffering comes with the territory. You want to avoid suffering then this is not the world for you. We are all vulnerable and fragile. We generally hope to stay above the fray and not find ourselves stuck in the midst of suffering. But it comes to each of us in our own ways – we hope not too often but we can’t be sure since life brings what it brings sometimes.

What the author of Hebrews knows is that perfection as a concept is not the same as perfection in reality. It is one thing to say “I am perfect.” It is quite another thing to actually be perfect.

Of course, none of us are perfect and we are tested most when we find ourselves struggling. How we process adversity and how we handle our pain helps us see ourselves in our most stark form. Anger, frustration, blame, shame and guilt all pile up on top of one another. We can erupt and lash out. We can retreat and hide. But either of those simply options serve to demonstrate that we are less than God’s desire for us.

When Jesus comes and faces suffering he discovers for himself whether the claims God has made about God’s nature stand the test of reality. Jesus’ willingness to submit to human sin and his willingness to be exposed to humiliation, pain and death show God and us that this is real – God’s perfect love can stand the test and we are loved unconditionally. God in Christ does not shrink from who he is – he demonstrates it and we see that God is more than a concept. God is a living and loving God.

The Bible does not see the perfection of Jesus as a moral category or even an emotional one where Jesus doesn’t get angry or sad or whatever. The Bible sees perfection defined in terms of costly and persistent love. Can God love in the midst of imperfection – and can we?

What Jesus shows us in his suffering also reminds us of who we are to be in the process of becoming. May our own struggles not diminish us, but be opportunities for us to love one another in the midst of the issues we face in life.

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Listen to Jesus

Jesus 1

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son… (Hebrews 1:1-2)

When I was in seminary, we would have worship each day. The flow of the week meant we celebrated communion each Wednesday. The other days the worship liturgy would often be Morning Prayer.

One of the responses that I remember from those morning services comes from the text above. The leader would begin and the congregation would respond:

L: In many and various ways, God spoke to our ancestors of old through the prophets.

C: But now in these last days, God has spoken to us by the Son.

I love this passage. It is clear and simple. It reminds us that God has been in the speaking business for a long time and has used many ways to speak to God’s people through the ages. God isn’t a one and done God! But it also makes a claim on our lives as Christians that tells us that for us, the voice of Jesus is the voice we listen for.

Martin Luther liked to remind people that their baptism included a promise from Jesus to always be present. He also urged them to not take that for granted but to listen for his voice. The author of Hebrews has high respect for the work of Jesus and for Christ’s role in our lives. It is the core of his message to us – listen to Jesus and trust his work.

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Sharing Sacred Stories

Psalm 40

This week we finish our four-week series in the book of Psalms. We have touched the surface of some of the diversity in the book with praising God as well as low points of the writers, just as we experience in our own lives.

This week our Psalmist has experienced deep lows and found solid ground once again, knowing God has been instrumental in his situation, helping him through his challenges. As a result, he is signing a new song, one of hope. His life is different.  He has a story to tell and he is not shy about telling it!

We all have a story to tell; a sacred story where God is active and in the midst of it.  Are you aware of your story?  When in your life have you had a new song to sing? Perhaps right now your song is of struggle, that’s okay.  Just know that God is present and at work in your life. Your story is your story and it is connected to God’s story.  It is a sacred story and you have something to share.

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God can calm our fears

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?  (Psalm 27:1)

One of the benefits of being a person of faith is the confidence that comes with it. Once you trust God over everything else and believe that God’s love can transcend even death, then there is nothing anyone can do to you to take away the most important thing you have.

Long before the resurrection of Jesus, the Psalmist wrote the above words. They are words of transformation that demonstrates the confidence that comes from trusting God. Martin Luther wanted us to know and trust this and as he talked about the meaning of the first article of the Apostles Creed he reminded people that God provides and protects us and is the source of all blessings. His hope was that as we remember that truth, we would feel blessed to have been given these gifts simply because God is generous

After the crucifixion, Jesus overcomes death and returns to the disciples who are very afraid. When he appears in their midst, he comes to offer them peace. Their fear turns into a calling to continue the work of Jesus.

What are you afraid of and what fear or anxiety is getting in the way of you doing something that you think really matters? The psalmist knows your struggle. The Psalmist also knows the way out of that struggle is God.

We have more info than the Psalmist had. The God who raised Jesus from the dead has demonstrated that this is a God who can be trusted. Allow yourself to enter into that gift and see your fears diminish and your commitment to pursue whatever God is calling you to do become a new possibility.

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Lord, Hear My Cry

Psalm 69

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. (Psalm 69:13)

Struggle and alienation are sometimes part of our lives. We don’t search for it – we are miserable when it happens. But at some points in our lives we may have experienced the breakdown of important relationships and have felt the pain of feeling isolated and alone.

The problem is, sometimes when things break down in one place in our life, other places can suffer as s result. People we relied on in one chapter of our life are now distant and no longer available to us. We may need them more than ever, but we lose them and the relationships seem to simply rub salt in the wounds we are feeling. We can even wonder what’s wrong with us and be overly aware of our own brokenness.

The end result for the Psalmist is introspection. The writer of this Psalm has felt victimized but the result was looking inside and remembering all the mistakes that had been made. Guilt and self-doubt have set in. The Psalmist’s family has left.  Even fellow members of the faith community have become distant. Jesus’ disciples remember this Psalm when he clears the temple in of the money changers.

When life gets like this, only grace can restore it. The strands of the relationships are so fragile and tenuous that no one seems to even be willing to work at it. Only God can provide hope. Yet faith still whispers a confident voice in the Psalmist’s ear: “Your troubles may seem to big to be overcome, but God is still God. There is always hope.”

The ground of all our hopes is that even when the world seems to have turned its back on us, the God who made us and loves us continues to work to restore us and bring us new life.

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Raising Our Eyes to a Higher Vision

Praise the Lord

From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised. (Psalm 133:3)

For the next few weeks we will be turning our attention to the Psalms. This collection of prayers/songs is an amazing treasure trove of spiritual resources and depth. No matter what you are feeling and what you are going through, there is probably more than one Psalm in this collection for you to connect with at any given time.

The verse above is a joyous and celebrative one. It is a call to recognize that no matter what time it is, it is time to praise the Lord. God’s goodness and commitment to doing good are praiseworthy 24/7. While we can find ourselves in a number of situations, some of which as we go through them may not naturally elicit praise for us. But the following well know call and response is always true:

L: God is good.

C: All the time.

L: All the time.

C: God is good.

Praise in life does two things and both of these are important in our relationship with God as well.

First, praise orients us in a positive way toward the other. Studies show that as much as 85% of the interactions between parents and their children are either instructive or critical. Less than 15% are simply affirming – things like “You are doing well,” or “I am proud of you,” or “I love you.” In some families that 15% is even less. The smaller it is the less positively the parent and child are likely to be in their orientation with each other. They simply become objects to manipulate or direct and lose their humanity.

This is true with God as well. If you spend most of your time when you are paying attention to God giving instructions, even in the context of prayer, it is easy to think of God on a purely practical level. “Dear God, fix this…” reduces God to simply a magical go-fer. Being intentional about praising God, thanking God and celebrating God’s goodness reframes us and keeps us oriented in a more positive way toward God.

Second, praise and celebrating goodness elevates our vision. I was just in a group of leaders who said that it seems like every organization has someone who is mostly negative – an Eeyore character. A few bad days or just a bad break or two and we can become that Eeyore character. But praise reminds us that what God is dreaming and what God is up to is higher than or current experience. It lifts our eyes toward the vision and pulls our spirits upward with it.

So, at various times between the rising of the sun and its setting, you may find yourself in a less than perfect place dealing with less than desirable circumstances. Remembering this verse in the midst of that can reorient you, reconnect you to God, and reposition you to act in ways that take something that isn’t yet what it could be and somehow make it look a bit more like the vision we know God has for it.

There is never a bad time to raise your eyes toward a higher vision!

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