Throughout generations there have always been times of uncertainty. Our world has consistently been in cycles of calm and chaos. Within each person’s own life, this uncertainty, calm and chaos occurs at a micro level which mimics the reality of the world. Above all of this exists the One who can calm our troubled lives. This One has the power to settle even the greatest chaos. What is even more amazing is that the One with such power, who has always been and is above all things, has each one of us on the mind and in the heart all the time. Our Lord even had us in mind when out of love, he placed himself beneath the power of sin and death to destroy it forever.
The verse for today is the answer to the trivia question, “What is the shortest verse in the Bible?” This comes in the midst of Jesus’s arrival to the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. The passage is a bit ambivalent in indicating to us the cause of Jesus’s weeping. Was the cause the weeping of Mary? Perhaps the cause was sadness over the death of Lazarus. Another potential cause may be the limited faith he saw in the people, especially Martha. Whatever the cause, the gospel writer tells us two different times that Jesus was moved. This movement of emotions leads Jesus to tears.
This verse is one of the most overlooked, important passages in Scripture. In these two words, we witness the depth of love Jesus has for us. No matter the cause of the tears, Jesus wept because of the sorrow found in the situation. The words also communicate to us that we have a Lord who shares in our grief and has felt our grief. What a comfort this type of intimacy can be as we journey through grief. Our tears are felt and shared in Jesus’s tears.
It is important to remember this verse. We are reminded that our Lord is not distant and unattached from us. No, our Lord is in the very midst of our experience. Our Lord feels for and with us every emotion we experience. What greater example of love can we ever desire? Oh wait, that comes later in the gospel.
There always seems to be some place on the planet where a drought is occurring. The level and the length of time may vary but the need for moisture is noticeable. Most living creatures not adapted for an arid climate need moisture of some form on a regular basis for survival. There are times when I seem to constantly be watering the plants in our landscaping in order to keep everything alive. Science tells us that humans can go through longer periods of time without food than we can without water in some form.
In today’s passage Jesus makes an offer to quench the thirst of anyone who comes to him. This thirst is not a physical one but instead it is a spiritual one. Not only does he promise to meet the spiritual thirst of people, he goes on to say that these individuals would be able to provide for the thirst of others. All of this is possible because the Spirit is the living water for all whose soul is thirsty.
An observant person can see that in the world today there is a great spiritual thirst. Just as the need existed when Jesus shared this invitation for his contemporaries, the people of our time have this great need. Everyone is searching for the one thing which will satisfy their thirst. Many attempt to fill the need with activity and possessions. Others use alcohol or drugs to eliminate the thirst. Still others may seek out cults and ethereal substances to overcome this drought in their lives.
The answer is found in what Jesus says in this passage. The Lord is the only one who can satisfy our thirst. As experienced in the Spirit, the living waters of Christ can flow in us and through us. We do not need to remain parched. When we receive what our soul pants for, we are able to share with others who are also thirsty.
Anticipating something can create anxiety for most of us. This anxiety increases if we do not know the timing of whatever we are anticipating. You might recall as a young child on a road trip the way you nagged your parents with the question, “Are we there yet?” Maybe you had a child who consistently would ask that question, or ask “when?” We think that by knowing the timing, we can manage our anxiety better. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case.
We witness the annely of the disciples in today’s passage. Jesus tells them that the large, revered temple will be reduced to rubble and they want to know when. Jesus warns them that some people will come and try to convince them that the end is near based upon events which they see around them. He tells them not to be fooled because those events are just a part of the status of the world. Jesus says the wickedness in the world will increase but they are to stand strong in love. When others no longer live in and by love, Jesus’s followers are to do the opposite as a testimony of the kingdom in the world.
Since Jesus spoke these words, history has recorded individuals trying to convince people that the end of the world is close at hand. Even today we experience leaders, speakers, preachers, and public figures trying to equate natural or human-created events as signs of the end times. Whether it is true or not, our focus should not be on timing but instead our focus should be on remaining solid in love. Jesus clearly tells us that whatever is occurring around us, whatever wickedness is flooding the world, we are to not acquire a cold heart. The love which we daily receive from the Lord must create our foundation. This love surrounding us is also what we are to be sharing with others.
Leave the timing of the world’s demise to God. Do not let the world’s wickedness steal the love from you. Make love an alternative to the events of the world. By doing so, you will be testifying to the kingdom for others to see, a kingdom which is defined by love.
A saying which one of my instructors stated frequently to my class was, “say what you mean and do what you say.” He was impressing upon us the importance of carrying through on what we say we are going to do. In his view, this was a component of personal integrity. Our integrity is the basis upon which trust can be built.
Jesus wished to impress the importance of following through on expectations when he shared the story of the two sons. In the story one son refuses to do what the father asks but then ends up fulfilling the request. The second son does exactly the opposite. The people before Jesus as he tells the story indicate the first son did what the father wanted. This gives Jesus the opportunity to point out that the Jewish leaders who had questioned his authority are like the second son while those condemned by these leaders were like the first son. They demonstrated integrity and pleased the Father because they repented from their initial error and believed.
This story can be disturbing for any of us who follow the pattern of the second son. How often do we sit in the midst of worship or during our devotion time and commit to the Lord that we are going to follow the Lord’s direction? Maybe we commit to change a behavior or reach out to another in some fashion. Do we carry through with what we say we will do or do we create an excuse not to do so? Are we doing as the Father wants? We must complete what the Lord asks whether we initially accept or reject it. We must do what we say we will do.
Many of us grew up with parents and grandparents who were committed to fairness in gift giving. Whether it was Christmas, birthdays, graduations, or any other opportunity to give a gift, these important people in our lives would strive to make sure that each child or grandchild received equally. As the receiver of the gifts, anytime we failed to see equity in the giving, we may have had a tendency to exclaim that it was unfair.
The fairness of giving and receiving is addressed in the story which Jesus tells in our passage for today. Workers hired early in the day protest the fairness of receiving the same daily wage as those who were hired in the final hours of the work day. The vineyard owner is quick to point out that all the workers received exactly the wage for which they agreed to work. The owner continues by lifting up that it was his money being paid so he had the right to determine the amount as long as it was not lower than the agreed upon amount. Jesus was addressing some of the issues regarding the Jews versus the Gentiles in coming to believe.
This battle of fairness can appear among believers today. People begin believing in the Lord at various points in their lives. There are some who develop a belief early in their lives, maybe because they have been raised in the fellowship of the Church. Others start developing their faith as young adults or even when they reach middle age. Still others may not come to believe until they are facing death. No matter when in life our belief begins, we all receive the fullness of our Lord’s promises fulfilled. In fact we receive this before we even begin to understand our belief. The grace given to all is the Lord’s to give. Instead of crying foul when a new believer accepts the gift of grace and promises fulfilled, we should celebrate.
When an immigrant desires to become a citizen of the United States, there is quite a process which the person must complete. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website lists the following:
Be at least 18 years of age at the time you file the application;
Have been a lawful permanent resident for the past three or five years (depending on which naturalization category you are applying under);
Have continuous residence and physical presence in the United States;
Be able to read, write, and speak basic English;
Demonstrate good moral character;
Demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government;
Demonstrate a loyalty to the principles of the U.S. Constitution; and
Be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance.
This list causes one to wonder how many citizens by birth could make it through this process
In the passage from Philippians, Paul speaks of being citizens. He mentions that we are transformed to this citizenship through the power of Christ. Striving to follow the example of Jesus as witnessed in others is our responsibility as heavenly citizens.
Paul’s words speak valuable concepts to us. Being reminded that our citizenship is in heaven provides a proper perspective on our earthly one. With citizenship comes responsibility. This sense of responsibility should not be taken lightly. In both types of citizenship, our care for others is paramount. This is the example given to us by our Lord and is applicable in both arenas.
It was quite common in 18th century Europe and the American colonies to have town criers. These were individuals who would be employed by a city to make announcements and share vital news by shouting in the streets. The earliest recording of such individuals is found in an account in Britain around 1066. The sharing of information has changed a lot since town criers were city employees.
The prophet Isaiah speaks of a form of a town crier in today’s passage. The news being shared is about peace and salvation. These items are being brought to the people by none other than the Lord. This never will be celebrated and witnessed by all the nations.
Today, we understand this passage as a foretelling of what Jesus Christ will do in Jerusalem. The salvation and peace which Jesus ushered in for all people is the good news, or gospel. It is now upon us that the title of town crier falls. We are to be the ones who are bringing good news to the world. Our message is one of peace and salvation which the Lord has brought into our lives.
The passage chosen for today is part of a letter which Paul has written. Paul had received word that many of the believers in Galatia had started striving to live according to the Hebrew laws. They were concerned about earning righteousness with God. Someone had convinced them of the necessity to adhere to the law. This portion of Paul’s letter is to address this problem and redviert the people.
Paul outlines the problem with the idea of striving to adhere to the ancient law. By focusing on required performance and behavior, the believers are disregarding the grace secured for them by Christ. The direction which they have been taking places the spotlight on them and their actions instead of on Christ’s actions. Any behaviors which they follow should be in response to the grace which they received through Christ, not because they are trying to follow the law.
Even today there are people who fall into the same trap which the believers in Galatia had fallen into. They were confused by leaders who tried to convince them that their righteousness was based on their fidelity to the law. Some church leaders today make similar statements. Paul’s words in his letter are apropos for anyone who follows this pattern. The grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient for us. Any attempts at earning righteousness discredits belief in Christ’s all-sufficient grace. Our lives should be lived as a response to this grace.
There is a saying which gets spoken often that goes like this, “There is no going back home.” In many situations, this saying is applicable. A desire to return to some point in our lives has crept into almost everyone’s thoughts. We can become nostalgic for a different time in our lives which our memories fool us into thinking was easier and problem-free. However, if we are to honestly to recall exactly what our views were at the specific time, we would have to admit that even then we longed for something else, something better and problem-free. So to some degree, the saying is true that we cannot go back, even if we could, it would not be the same. We really would not want it to be the same.
There is an exception of sorts to what I just presented to you. The exception has to do with reconciliation and restored relations. Jesus presents this exception in the form of a story about a father and his two sons. The story’s focus character is the man’s youngest son who longs for something better. The son takes his future inheritance and hits the road in search of adventure, only to find himself destitute and longing to go back home. When he finally gets the courage to return, the son fully reconciles with his father and the relationship is completely restored.
Jesus tells this story to give us understanding into the promise of reconciliation and restoration offered by God. With the Father, we are more than able to go back home. Not only is the ability made possible by the Lord, it is greatly desired by God. The chance to reconcile our relation with God is one of the greatest signs of love given to us. This opportunity is available as many times as we need it.
The other son in Jesus’s story also provides an important lesson for us. Even though the father was ready to, and did, reconcile with his youngest son, the older brother responded the opposite way. How many times do we reject the offer of reconciliation from others? Jesus communicated here the need for us to always work for reconciliation with one another.