Luther’s Four Big Barber Questions

Psalm 119:33-40

 

33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,

    and I will observe it to the end.

34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law

    and observe it with my whole heart.

35 Lead me in the path of your commandments,

    for I delight in it.

36 Turn my heart to your decrees,

    and not to selfish gain.

37 Turn my eyes from looking at vanities;

    give me life in your ways.

38 Confirm to your servant your promise,

    which is for those who fear you.

39 Turn away the disgrace that I dread,

    for your ordinances are good.

40 See, I have longed for your precepts;

    in your righteousness give me life.            
 
 

The story goes that one day while he was getting a haircut, Martin Luther was asked by his barber, Peter Beskendorf, “Dr. Luther, how do you pray?” In answer to his question, Luther sent Beskendorf a letter—40 printed pages in length! Luther’s “prayer plan,” as it turned out, was a combination of Bible study and prayer. In order to give his barber an easy plan by which to formulate prayers on the thoughts of his Bible study, Luther said he should ask the four questions to a text and then weave them into his prayer based on the answers Scripture gives him.

 

  • What does this Bible lesson teach me to do? (Main Theme)
  • What does it teach me to be thankful for? (Specific Gospel)
  • What does it teach me to confess? (Specific Sin)
  • What does it teach me to ask for? (Sanctification)

 

Luther’s Four Big Barber Questions are not only a great way to develop a productive prayer life, but they are also a good way of studying the Bible. 

 

I encourage you today to use the psalm verses above and ask these four questions. You may want to take some notes to help you in formulating the prayer for today.

 

Dear God, I thank you for your Word, the light unto my path and the lamp unto my feet.

Direct me to do ….

Today I give thanks for ….

For the things I have done and left undone, I confess….

All that is good is a gift from you. In humble adoration, I ask for ….

 

For these I pray today, in Jesus’ name. Amen. 



On the Same Team

Matthew 12:22-30 
 
22 Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute; and he cured him, so that the one who had been mute could speak and see. 23 All the crowds were amazed and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons.” 25 He knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 
 
Here is a lesson we don’t hear very often. It sounds like the Pharisees were trying to determine whose team Jesus is on. Jesus’ response is that it is by the Spirit of God that he casts out demons. This is God’s team! 
 
We sometimes get so wrapped up in our disagreements and what divides us that we forget that we are on the same team.
 
Rachel Held Evans was a gifted Christian writer who died all too young. I had the privilege of hearing her speak at a conference several years ago. I appreciated her clarity and conviction. Here are words shared by Evans that are memorialized on a Facebook page remembering her legacy:
 

The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord, that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again.

  • You’re not “contending for the gospel” when you disagree with someone on gender roles. You’re just disagreeing with someone on gender roles.
  • You’re not “contending for the gospel” when you debate predestination and free will. You’re just debating predestination and free will, as Christians have done for centuries.
  • You’re not “contending for the gospel” by interpreting Genesis 1 as literal science; you’re just interpreting Genesis 1 as literal science.
  • You’re not “contending for the gospel” when you take to Twitter to call faithful Christians with whom you disagree heretics, false teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing, Bible-haters, and gospel-deniers; you’re just missing the point.
 
The Gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners-saved-by-grace committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors and saying, “Welcome. There’s bread and wine. Come and eat. Let’s talk.”
 
Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.
 
We are on the same team. If Christ is for us, who can be against us?
 

Let us pray:

Dear God, thanks for being the coach. Lead us to victory in you, and invite others to join the team. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen. 


The Apple of Your Eye

Psalm 17 
 

Prayer for Deliverance from Persecutors

A Prayer of David.
 

Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry;

    give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.

From you let my vindication come;

    let your eyes see the right.

 

If you try my heart, if you visit me by night,

    if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me;

    my mouth does not transgress.

As for what others do, by the word of your lips

    I have avoided the ways of the violent.

My steps have held fast to your paths;

    my feet have not slipped.

 

I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;

    incline your ear to me, hear my words.

Wondrously show your steadfast love,

    O savior of those who seek refuge

    from their adversaries at your right hand.

 

Guard me as the apple of the eye;

    hide me in the shadow of your wings,

from the wicked who despoil me,

    my deadly enemies who surround me.

10 They close their hearts to pity;

    with their mouths they speak arrogantly.

11 They track me down; now they surround me;

    they set their eyes to cast me to the ground.

12 They are like a lion eager to tear,

    like a young lion lurking in ambush.

 

13 Rise up, O Lord, confront them, overthrow them!

    By your sword deliver my life from the wicked,

14 from mortals—by your hand, O Lord—

    from mortals whose portion in life is in this world.

May their bellies be filled with what you have stored up for them;

    may their children have more than enough;

    may they leave something over to their little ones.

 

15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;

    when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.
 
 
The apple of your eye (verse 8). What does that phrase mean to you?
 
I did some research on this. Wikipedia states, “The phrase apple of my eye refers in English today to something or someone that one cherishes above all others. Originally, the phrase was simply an idiom referring to the pupil of the eye.”
 
It shows up elsewhere in the Bible, but the word “apple” isn’t used. This was a translation first used in the King James Version back in 1611. From Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers:
 

“’Apple of the eye’ translated literally is ‘little man, daughter of the eye.’ The mannikin is, of course, the reflection seen in the pupil. Daughter is either a contraction of a word meaning cavity, or is the common Hebrew idiom which by son or daughter of expresses relation, as sons of the bow = arrows. In fact, the curious Hebrew phrase is substantially like the Greek κόρη and Latin pupa, or pupilla, even to the gender.”

That’s probably more than you wanted to know!
 
One comment I read said, “The apple of the eye is the place where you can see your own reflection in the eye of another.”
 
God, your focus on me; look at me. I remember my preschool-aged daughter grabbing my face and making sure I was looking right at her when she wanted to get her point across to me. She wanted to make sure I was seeing her.
 
I find that in preaching, I connect with people if I can see their eyes. I know I am connecting. I do remember one member at my previous church coming to the 8 a.m. service on Sunday morning after a late Saturday night Ohio State game on TV. He entered wearing sunglasses. He told me he had some eye issues and needed to keep his eyes shaded. I am pretty sure he didn’t want me to see the eyes were not focused on the sermon that day.
 
A song from the musical Hamilton is titled, “History Has Its Eyes on You.” How does it feel to know God eyes are on YOU? Reassuring? Comforting? Challenging? Discomforting?
 
The promise we have in Jesus Christ, the message of the cross, is this:
 
  1. God knows you. Inside out. Upside down. Through and through. God knows your joys, your sorrows, your hopes and your fears, your successes and failures, your outward appearance and inward things you hope no one will ever see. God knows you.
  2. The one God knows is the one God loves. Don’t believe it? Look at the cross. For God so loved… For God so loves.
 
You are God’s beloved. The apple of God’s eye.
 
As the God the Father character states in the book The Shed, when talking about various people, she says, “I am especially fond of that one.”
 
I don’t know about you, but there are definitely some days I need to hear that about me. And there are definitely some days I need to hear that about my neighbor.
 
I encourage you to take time to read the rest of these verses. What words cause you to pause? What challenges you in these verses? What gives you hope?
 

Let us pray:

Dear God, thank you for your great love for us. As we are loved, may we so love one another. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.



Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Psalm 139 
 

The Inescapable God

To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.

 

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

    you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,

    and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

    O Lord, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before,

    and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

 

Where can I go from your spirit?

    Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning

    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

10 even there your hand shall lead me,

    and your right hand shall hold me fast.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

    and the light around me become night,”

12 even the darkness is not dark to you;

    the night is as bright as the day,

    for darkness is as light to you.

 

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

    Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.

15     My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written

    all the days that were formed for me,

    when none of them as yet existed.

17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!

    How vast is the sum of them!

18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;

    I come to the end—I am still with you.

 

19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,

    and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—

20 those who speak of you maliciously,

    and lift themselves up against you for evil!

21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?

    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

22 I hate them with perfect hatred;

    I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;

    test me and know my thoughts.

24 See if there is any wicked way in me,

    and lead me in the way everlasting.
 
 
 
Again, I go off the assigned readings for today to offer this devotion.
 
I am writing this on August 24, a week before you get to read it. Early yesterday morning, my wife and I became grandparents once again (or should I say TWICE again). My son and daughter-in-law welcome our newest twin grandsons into our lives, and theirs as well.
 
The new parents decided they didn’t want to know the gender of the babies until they were born. And so, yesterday morning when they called to share the news, my son asked us what our guesses were of the genders. I said one of each. Lisa guessed two girls. We were both wrong. Two boys. Bennett and Nolan.
 
When our son was born, we didn’t know the gender until he arrived either. So when we called home to tell our almost three-year-old daughter that she had a baby brother, her response was, “No, I think it’s gonna be a girl!” I don’t think she ever stopped wishing that.
 
And when I was born, that was before the days of ultrasound and gender reveal parties. Mom and Dad had three boys already and thought they were done having kids. Surprise! Dad celebrated the news of my pending arrival with a martini! I was not what they expected.
 
And when I was born, the doctor came out and told Dad that he had yet another son. Dad said, “Doctor, my wife, Pat, is not going to be happy with you.” The doctor said, “Mr Woodward, I believe your wife will not be happy with you. I just delivered the baby!”
 
I think Mom and Dad got over the fact that four boys were what God had given them.
 
I also shared with my son the words my dad shared with me when I called to let him know our daughter, our first child, was born. Out of his sleepy fog, he said, “Isn’t it great being a dad?” Two hours into it, I had to agree, and 34 years into it, I still agree. I hope and pray my kids and their spouses will, too.
 
The psalmist writes:
 

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
 
God knits us together. What God makes is beautiful. Fearfully and wonderfully made.
 
Everyone we see is a child knit by God. Everyone.
 
May we cherish the life given to us, and the lives of those who are shared with us. 
 
Thank you, God, for Bennett and Nolan – wonderfully made.
 

Let us pray:

Dear God, thank you for the wonder of your creation, of which you love and in which you delight. May we do the same. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Jesus, the Sin Stealer

Romans 12:9-21 
 
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
 
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 
 
What does it mean to overcome evil with good? I share with you a story I came across a few years ago.

 

Story of Buzz – Jesus the Sin Stealer

I want to be as graphic and as plain as I can be about this. Jesus is the ultimate sin stealer, and that troubles me.
 
You can certainly use language that describes this reality in different terms, like “Jesus removes our sins,” or “Jesus washed my sins away,” but Jesus “rips us off” as far as our corporate and personal sins are concerned. I am a witness to this, because I was reared by a sin stealer: my mother.
 
This sin stealing was shown most clearly on an early spring day long ago, when my mother had made my favorite lunch for school. It was a small container of chocolate milk, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. I went off to Public School 129, eager for the morning to pass so I could sink my teeth into one of those delicious cookies. But, a block and a half away, as I turned to Quincy Street, I was face-to-face with Buzz, the bully of the block.
 
“Gimme that lunch, punk!” he said.
 
“But, Buzz, that’s my lunch.”
 
“You better gimme that lunch!”
 
“But it’s mine. My Mom made it for me, and she made me my favorite…”
 
Buzz’s right uppercut sent me and the lunch to the ground. He picked up the lunch and said, “That’s what you get for not listening to me!” and went off to school. I also went off to school with no lunch and lots of anger.
 
At home, late that afternoon, I was very silent. Mama, knowing something was up, said, “What happened at school today?”
 
“I’m gonna kill him!”
 
“What?”
 
“I’m gonna kill him!”
 
“And who do you plan to kill?”
 
“Buzz. He beat me up, he stole my lunch, and I’m gonna kill him!”
 
Mama thought for a while and then said, “Here, have some food. Don’t start your homework right away — there is something we need to do together, but you must do it as I say.”
 
The next morning I saw Buzz in front of the school. He pointed to me and said, “Here is that punk who I stole cookies from yesterday!” 
 
I walked up to him, handed him a bag and said, “Buzz, here are some cookies. They’re for you. My mother and I made them.”
 
“Whaddya mean, punk? Giving me cookies? I can take them from you anytime I want!”
 
“But we made them for you. Take them.”
 
“Are they poison?”
 
“No, they’re okay. Take them.”
 
He took the bag from me and handed it to one of his buddies. “Hey, Biff, you try them.”
 
“But they just may be poison,” said Biff.
 
“Try them anyway, already! They just may be good!”
 
After one bite, and Biff still standing, Buzz passed out the cookies to his buddies, saying, “The punk has brought me, Buzz, some cookies! Isn’t that great?!”
 
The next day, I saw Buzz during recess. I walked up to him, gave him a bag and said, “Buzz, here are some more cookies. Take them; they’re free.”
 
“Are you messing with me, man? Are you messing with me? These are the ones that are poison! Yesterday was just to set me up!”
 
“Don’t worry, Buzz. They’re just fine.” He took the bag and backed away from me with a terrified look on his face.
 
The following day, I saw Buzz in the cafeteria. I said, “Buzz, here are some more cookies. Enjoy them!”
 
“How can I enjoy cookies if you keep on giving them to me! Now cut it out, man! I didn’t even finish yesterday’s cookies! No more cookies! He took the bag anyway.
 
On the next day, I saw Buzz at the end of school. I walked up to him and said, “Buzz, here are….” He took one look at that bag of cookies and turned running and screaming all the way down Quincy Street. I haven’t even had the notion of taking someone’s life ever since. Because Jesus is a sin stealer, my mom stole my intention to sin. (Adapted from a sermon by the Rev. Michael L. Cobbler, “The Trouble With ‘Sin Stealers,” January 17, 1999)
 

Let us pray:

Dear God, you challenge us to do the hard thing – overcoming evil with good. Strengthen our resolve and may evil be overcome! We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Restoration

Matthew 8:14-17
 
Jesus Heals Many at Peter’s House
 
14 When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; 15 he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” 
 
Today’s devotion is based on a sermon given by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber.
 
Jesus and the disciples entered Simon’s house and Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever. Jesus came and took her by the hand, lifted her up. Then the fever left her and she began to serve them.
 
For the record, it is hard not to read this lesson without feeling it seems to be pretty sexist, yes? Rather than scrounging around for their own lunches, they heal the woman of the house so she can serve them. I get it!
 
So, don’t feel bad if that’s how you heard this story, too.
 
But, I started to see the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law story differently after sitting with it awhile.
 
It’s true that Matthew doesn’t tell us her name, so let’s just agree to make one up for her so she has an identity other than mother-in-law. We’re going to call her Matilda.
 
See, I don’t actually think Jesus healed Matilda so she could make them lunch. Because the thing is, for a male Jew in first century Palestine, it was considered taboo to even touch an unrelated woman. And, it was considered unclean to touch someone who was sick. And, it was considered a religious violation to do any kind of work on the Sabbath. So, I can’t imagine that Jesus would defile himself on so many levels just so he wouldn’t have to make his own sandwich. I think this scene with Matilda is a demonstration of what Jesus was talking throughout the Gospels over and over again – the kingdom of God has come near.
 
The important thing that Jesus provides is a restoration to community.
 
Sarah Henrich of Luther Seminary writes these words:
 
“Illness bore a heavy social cost: not only would a person be unable to earn a living or contribute to the well-being of a household, but their ability to take their proper role in the community, to be honored as a valuable member of a household, town, or village, would be taken from them. Peter’s mother-in-law is an excellent case in point. It was her calling and her honor to show hospitality to guests in her home. Cut off from that role by an illness cut her off from doing that which integrated her into her world. Who was she when no longer able to engage in her calling? Jesus restored her to her social world and brought her back to a life of value by freeing her from that fever. It is very important to see that healing is about restoration to community and restoration of a calling, a role as well as restoration to life. For life without community and calling is bleak indeed.”

 

And the thing I love about Matilda is that Matilda knew what you do with hands which have received the healing touch of God….Matilda used those very hands to serve. She immediately became an agent of what she had just received: grace and mercy and healing. Not as an act of obligation, or law or social expectation, but as an act of freedom. Because the boundaries that Jesus transgresses allow the most unlikely and broken people to give what they have received. We see again and again Jesus literally touching the untouchable and giving them a whole new identity. It’s like he was deputizing them. Because Jesus was about more than just healing certain sick people…the gospel tell us that Jesus’ greatest desire was to restore all that has been broken. So, every person who Jesus healed was conscripted into the Kingdom of God so that they may go and do likewise.
 
As God forgives us and restores us, what is God calling us to do? How and whom do we serve?
 

Let us pray:

Dear God, your healing touch makes us whole. Free us from the bondage of sin to be your hands and feet in the world today. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 


God is With Us

Psalm 26:1-8 

 

Plea for Justice and Declaration of Righteousness

Of David.

 

Vindicate me, O Lord,

    for I have walked in my integrity,

    and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.

Prove me, O Lord, and try me;

    test my heart and mind.

For your steadfast love is before my eyes,

    and I walk in faithfulness to you.

 

I do not sit with the worthless,

    nor do I consort with hypocrites;

I hate the company of evildoers,

    and will not sit with the wicked.

 

I wash my hands in innocence,

    and go around your altar, O Lord,

singing aloud a song of thanksgiving,

    and telling all your wondrous deeds.

 

O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell,

    and the place where your glory abides.
 
 
To be in the house where God swells, and the place where God’s glory abides.
 
We traveled to Israel in 2010, and one of our first visits was to the town of Nazareth.
 
A tour had been set up for us at a small area run by the YMCA in Nazareth that is a historical depiction of what life was like in the village of Nazareth in Jesus’ day. Our tour guide at the site greeted us and gave us an overview of the small, two-acre site. After introduction – being a guide at the site set up by the YMCA – he had to say it, “Let’s go visit the Village People!”
There was something special about being in that place. Probably not exactly where Joseph and Mary made their home, but it was pretty close. We had many opportunities throughout those days to be in or near the places Jesus walked and preached and prayed.

A boat ride on the Sea of Galilee

A time for prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane

The good news is we do not have to venture far to be in the place where God dwells. For we have it from a reliable source that where two or three are gathered, Jesus is present (Matthew 18:20).
 
As of writing this a week ahead of time, we just got word that Montgomery County moved down to level 2 after weeks at level 3 under Ohio’s Public Health Advisory System. This has been the guide we have followed to determine when we can worship together once again.
 
If all goes well in the coming days, we should be back to offering worship outside this Sunday. How we long to be together.
 
The good news is that as we gather together, God is with us. God is present. It is good to be where God resides.
 
I also believe that God resides with us as we gather through the online streaming services. God is with us as we gather together to worship. God is with us.
 
I remember Herb Brokering’s words at a Synod Assembly many years ago. Brokering was a gifted musician and teacher. The song “Earth and All Stars” and many others were penned by him. His passion and wit were a blessing to all. As our Bible study leader at this assembly, Brokering said he thought it foolish that people go to Israel and get a bottle of water from the Jordan River to bring back so the same water with which Jesus was baptized can be used here in the USA for a baptism. As I can best recall, Brokering said, “If I understand the way water and weather work, water from a river will evaporate, be pulled up to the sky into clouds, move from that place to another, and when the cloud has enough moisture, it will then rain. That cycle happens over and over again. So I figure, over 2,000 years, some of the water that was in the Jordan River when Jesus was baptized eventually made it to Kansas when I was baptized as a baby.”
 
God is with us. God abides with us.
 
Where do you see God’s glory today?
 

Let us pray:

Dear God, thank you for the many places you dwell. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Imitate God

Ephesians 5:1-6 
 

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient.
 
These words for today’s devotion come from a sermon by Pastor Vince Gerhardy.
 
“Imitate God.”  Are you serious?  Imitate God that means speak and act like God, mimic God, be like God, copy God, emulate God, match God – who can do that?  God is so “totally other”, so different, so perfect – how can we even begin to imitate God in everything we do?  There is one major stumbling block when it comes to imitating God – thinking, speaking and acting like God and it’s this – God is so perfect, and God never gets things wrong while we are so imperfect and are always messing things up.
 

In fact, Paul is writing to Christians and lists a whole lot of things that have messed up their lives:

  • anger that leads to hurting others,
  • lying and speaking deceptively,
  • disrespecting other people’s property,
  • bad language,
  • bitterness and put downs,
  • insulting speech and hateful feelings and that’s not the half of it.
 
His readers know the love of Jesus and yet that love doesn’t flow over into their daily lives. We know the love of Jesus and yet Jesus’ love doesn’t flow over into our daily lives. So Paul says it as plainly as he can, “Imitate God.”
 

This is the only place in the New Testament where this phrase is used. Paul uses language like “imitate me” or “imitate other churches” but not “imitate God”. That is a very demanding challenge. He explains what he means by this, saying, “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ”. In other words, Imitating God means

  • living like Christ,
  • loving like Christ,
  • sacrificing oneself like Christ,
  • being dedicated and committed like Christ,
  • forgiving like Christ and
  • avoiding everything that would draw you away from being Christ-like.
 
Does any of that make Paul’s words, “Imitate God in everything you do” any easier to fulfill? Maybe it simply highlights the fact that even though we claim to be “children of the light”, being like Christ and imitating Christ is something that is really difficult. The more we consider these words the greater the awareness of how hard it is to imitate God. Read the rest of chapter 5 where Paul talks about obscene talk, coarse language, bad jokes, greediness, sexual immorality in the broadest sense and we end swallowing very hard.
 
Let’s take one aspect of God’s love as an example – forgiveness. We see Jesus generous love on the cross. At our baptism he embraced us sinful beggars and poured on us his grace and love and declared us to be free and clean of everything that stains us.
 
He gives us his body and blood in Holy Communion and again declares his love for us and promises that we are his and that we will live forever. His forgiveness is given generously, extravagantly, completely, unconditionally, graciously. When God forgives sin God no longer remembers it; our sin is no longer held against us. It has been wiped away forever.

We all know that forgiveness is something that is badly needed in our community and our world today. But it is so hard to forgive. Most of us have a skeleton or two in the cupboard of our lives – things we have said or done that causes our conscience to nag us. And most of us have been around the church long enough to know that church members haven’t always been as generous as Jesus with their forgiveness.
 
A story at this time might help us focus on what it means to “imitate God.” The story is told of a girl, Louise, who turned her back on her widowed mother, considering her Mom too restrictive. They had an argument when she came home with a tattoo, and after shouting, “I hate you,” packed her bags and left home without telling her mother where she was going.
 
Night after night the mother waited for Louise, but she didn’t come back. Not knowing what to do next, the mother decided to have some photos taken of herself and then wrote on each of them “I love you. Come back”. She posted the pictures on bulletin boards wherever she thought her daughter might see them.
 
In the meantime, Louise’s attempts at finding a job had limited success. Mostly she lived on the street. At night she would lie awake, frightened and cold, her pockets and her stomach empty, and with newspapers tucked under her coat to keep her warm. Thoughts of home popped into her head. The smell of something delicious coming from the kitchen.  Her bedroom and the bed with sheets and blankets. She missed her cat and realized he was warm, well-fed, and healthy. But the idea of going home was out of the question. She was not going back. Her pride wouldn’t let her.
 
One night, something on a community bulletin board caught her attention. Louise took a closer look, and there it was – her own mother, looking much older now. Then she saw what was written on the photo, “I love you. Come back”, and knew it was addressed to her. Those words hit her with an unbelievable force. With tears in her eyes and a heart burning with remorse, she took the first train home.
 
When she arrived, she was surprised to find the door of the house open; no need to knock; in she went. “Mom, I’m so sorry. Can you ever…”
 
“Shh,” her mother interrupted. She threw her arms around her daughter, held her tight and with tears in their eyes, they both stood there embraced in love and warmth and forgiveness.
 
After a while the streetwise Louise asked, “Mom, why do you leave your front door open?”  
 
“Oh, Louise, the door has never been closed since the day you left. I’ve left it open all the time you’ve been gone, waiting for my precious child to walk through it.”
 
God gives us the hug of forgiveness. God says to you at this moment, “I love you even though you aren’t perfect. I forgive you for the sake of my Son, Jesus.” That’s the hug of God.
 
Jesus continues to hug us with his love and forgiveness. We are held together in his loving arms as brothers and sisters. We are united in the Body of Christ sharing the same Bread of Life that gives life forever. Jesus has blessed us with his grace, and now Paul says, “Imitate what Christ has done for you. Be kind and tenderhearted, forgiving and loving toward one another, and like Christ, put other’s needs above your own.”
 
“Imitate God in everything you do because you are God’s dear children” is a tough call.  As much as we might look for loopholes or for reasons not to forgive those who hurt us, Jesus leaves no room for doubt that just as God has forgiven us for our persistent and blatant wrong against God, so also we are to forgive one another.
 

It is a hard thing to be “like Christ” or to “imitate God” and Paul knows it. We can only “imitate God” in God’s grace. We know that we will fail often. We need God’s constant hug of forgiveness around us. We need that baptismal hug to remind us that we are still God’s, and God’s love burns ever stronger for us. We need God’s hug as we receive Jesus’ body and blood in the Sacrament and are reminded that all is forgiven. We are hugged by God and then challenged as we go forth to imitate God.

 

Let us pray:

Dear God, may we strive to imitate you in our love for one another. Bless our efforts, and forgive our shortcomings. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 


The Foolishness of It All

Matthew 26:6-13 
 
The Anointing at Bethany
 
Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the lepera woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
 
Ah, the foolishness of it all. But what we consider foolish may look completely different in God’s eyes. What the world may see as foolish may be filled with wisdom.
 
St. Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians: “…God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” [I Cor 1:25-27]
 
In today’s lesson, there seems to be several instances of what one might perceive as foolishness. But it is God’s wisdom that reigns victorious in the end.
 
The sweet perfume filled the air. But, ah, the foolishness. Why is this woman using such an expensive thing on Jesus? This bottle of perfume would cost a great sum; another gospel states that the ointment is worth one year’s wages. One year’s wages – you do the math. It is an expensive gift. How foolish!
 
The disciples are upset. “How foolish it is to do this! The money should go to the poor.” I guess it goes to show us how foolish Jesus thought money and earthly goods can be.
 
But what is this woman doing? What is she doing to Jesus? Washing his feet? No. That could be done with a towel and a basin of water. No, she is anointing Jesus. Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, which literally means the Anointed One, the chosen one of God. 
 
In the Old Testament, God would send a prophet to go and find the chosen one, and when found, the prophet would anoint that one with oil, signifying that this one is the chosen one of God. In this act, this woman anoints Jesus. What a wonderful gift. She gives her all for her Lord and savior.
 
What a wonderful gift. But what does the woman use for this anointing? This perfume, this gift, is a perfume used for burial. How foolish is that? Jesus is being anointed for death.
 
Ah, the foolishness of it all. Jesus the Messiah is anointed for death. We know the story of Holy Week and Easter. It begins with the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the last days of Jesus’ ministry, his crucifixion and death. How foolish it all seems. Yet this is God’s foolishness, which is wiser than human wisdom. God knows what God is doing. What seems so foolish on the surface, is so very wise. God’s Son is anointed for death, because that is the battle he must face. He is victorious over sin and death.
 
He wins the victory for you and for me. Your sins are forgiven. New life is yours. All you have to do is know that God wins for us! 
 
Yet how foolish we are, for we live each day under the burden of sin, separation from God. We live out this separation by trying to save ourselves. We take the gift of God for granted, or we even forget about it. We do foolish things. We make foolish decisions. 
 
God looks at us, God’s foolish children, and must wonder why we don’t listen. Why don’t we understand? God tells us to let go of the things that the world tells us are important and do something foolish for God. Serve others, care for others, love others. That is what it is all about. 
 
Because of what Jesus has done for you and me, may we free ourselves from trying to be wise human beings. Instead, may we be wise Christians, who seek God’s wisdom and not the wisdom of the world. May we do that which God is calling us to do.
 
I have long since lost the name of the person from whom I got this story. A pastor once said, “As a memento of a retreat I attended, I was given a small towel with a hand-stitched design symbolizing Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. That towel served mostly as a decoration for a few years until one of my daughters accidentally used it to clean the car. The commemorative towel has been scrubbed with stain remover and sent through the washer, but it’s indelibly marked by grease and grime. At first, I was miffed at having my memento used to wash hubcaps and bumpers. But then I began to see that towel as a picture of myself, and it caused me to ask some questions. When it comes to serving others, do I reserve myself for special occasions instead of doing an ordinary job today? When Jesus washed and wiped His disciples’ feet, didn’t His towel get dirty? What’s a towel for – decoration or demonstration?
 
“My little towel now serves as a reminder that self- preservation will keep me untouched but completely useless in my service for Christ. Real servants get dirty every day. Doing our daily vocation is service to God, period. It is honorable and needed.”
 
Jesus dies and rises for you and for me. The Anointed One.
 

Let us pray:

Dear God, we give thanks to you for your Son, Jesus the Anointed. Through His death and resurrection, we are set free to serve in wonderful and foolish ways. Free us for service to others. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 


What does God want from us?

Romans 11:33-36
 
33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
 

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord?

    Or who has been his counselor?”

35 “Or who has given a gift to him,

    to receive a gift in return?”
 
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.
 
With what can we come before the Lord in offering? What do you get the One who created everything?
 
Our offerings are in response to what God has given us – it is our Thank You to God for all we have.
 
My dad shared a story about when he was in college and had gone to church one Sunday. He put a check in the offering plate as it came by. Later that week, he received a thank you note from the pastor for his contribution. My dad told me he didn’t have the heart to tell the pastor that he was making change out of the offering plate so he could do laundry! Oh my.
 
What does God want from us?
 

What God Requires

“With what shall I come before the Lord,

    and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

    with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,

    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,

    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

    and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

    and to walk humbly with your God?    Micah 6:6-8
 
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly.
 
What God desires is not for us to give to God, but to give to each other, and in doing so, we serve God.
 
Loving Jesus by serving others.
 
P.S. – Please don’t make change in the offering plate!
 

Let us pray:

Dear God, for all that we have and all that we are, we thank you. May our lives reflect your love for us in all that we say and do for those we encounter today. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 


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