Now that Solomon is Dead

Wandering around the campus of Ole Miss, you can’t escape the past. There are old buildings and old trees. And there’s an old memorial to the Lost Cause, the house divided, as well as a new one to James Meredith, the first African-American to attend the University. Yes, memories of valor abound and they remind us we should humble ourselves presently because we just might not be as smart as we think.

If you’re reading the Old Testament with us at St. John’s, Solomon is no longer with us. And now that Solomon is dead and the kingdom is divided, we will encounter more powerfully the voice of the prophets as we continue reading. Yes, prophets, and those who have functioned in the prophetic role, have been around, including the likes of Moses, Samuel, and Nathan. But now these characters will take center stage. We’ll encounter first Elijah and Elisha and then others like Amos and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Hosea, who have left a written record of their of their divine pronouncements.

But what is it these emissaries from God will speak to the people of Israel and the people of Judah? In a word, faithfulness. Now that Solomon is dead, the needed word that reverberates with such power from Yahweh through his prophets to his people is one of faithfulness—cultic faithfulness and faithfulness to the divine image in one another. The former is about loving God, the latter about loving one another. Jesus, of course, had something to say about this too.

Now that Solomon is dead and the kingdom is in disarray, the prophets will offer a simple and yet powerful message of faithfulness, by which they simply mean this: Worship Yahweh only. And do justice and love mercy.

If you want a taste of how important the marriage of justice and mercy are, wander around Ole Miss. The memories of the past are there to haunt us and to give us hope for the future.

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If you’re wondering how important the notion of divine image is, assume it doesn’t apply to a group or class of people and see how quickly we turn on them.

If you’re wondering how to cultivate a proper understanding of yourself and others, cultivate a life of worship, not of self, but of the God who gave us his image and then took on our likeness.

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Sunday’s Earthy Benediction

Born out of the wisdom I shared Sunday – “if the grass is greener on the other side, it just means there is more manure there” (unknown) – came a rather earthy benediction. I share it again, or some variant of it, because I need it and I suspect some of you do too.

“May God turn the manure in your life to fertilizer. And may you find rest in the resulting green pastures. And when others inquire about your side of the fence, may you be quick to praise the God who has bestowed upon you mercy and grace.”

Traveling, you don’t have to miss any of these foundational sermons in our Old Testament series. Just follow the link to catch up on what you’ve missed: http://sjepc.com/sermon-archive/

 

 

Come to Me All You Who Are Weary and All You Who Snore

Walking into the beautifully aged St. Peter’s Episcopal Church , just off the square in Oxford, Mississippi, I was startled by a man lurking in the shadows just inside the sanctuary doors. His disheveled appearance and the grumbled greeting he gave me as I passed led me to assume he was mentally confused or homeless or maybe even a transient or possibly all of the above.

Seeking a prayerful refuge from the rain and recent pace of life, I began my meditations, and, just as I did, he, sure enough, began to snore. Loudly.

Snoring annoys most of us. It is a hindrance to our rest. I remember attending a conference with Brian, Steve, and Derek and being forced at an ungodly hour to the bathroom where I closed the door, laid down in the shower, even closed the curtain, and pulled a pillow over my head to escape the concert the trio was performing that night. It didn’t help. Not. One. Bit. This gentleman would’ve made a nice addition had they wanted to form a quartet.

Strangely enough, his snoring didn’t bother me. It just changed the tenor and tone of my prayers. In my quest for rest, I was not alone, nor was he in his. We couldn’t have been more different—different ages, different journeys, vastly different life situations, different needs. But in that moment, sharing a common space, we couldn’t have been more alike. Gathered in the sanctuary, as we all are when we come together in places of worship, we were on equal footing—two beggars looking for bread, two weary souls looking for rest.

I prayed my prayers. And I smiled as he honked and wheezed and snorted and gasped from the back pew where he’d made a pillow out of his backpack. He’d found at least a moment of peace, as did I.

I began to think he was on to something. I laid my head on the back of the pew in front of me and closed my eyes. A power nap would do me some good, I thought. But I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t. He was snoring too loud.

The Reward of Righteousness

Following up on our thoughts about the cost of pride from yesterday, it is only natural to wonder if there is any reward to righteousness. And, of course, there is:

  • If the price of pride is discord and unrest, the reward of righteousness is unity, harmony, and peace.
  • If the price of pride is defeat, the reward of righteousness is victory.
  • If the price of pride is a diminished witness, the reward of righteousness is a fruitful witness.
  • If the price of price of pride is sorrow and mourning, the reward of righteousness is rejoicing and laughter.
  • If the price of pride is death, the reward of righteousness is resurrection… and life everlasting.

So where does this righteousness come from? Well, not from within us, not naturally anyway.

The reward of righteousness comes through the power of humility, love, and grace of Jesus.

Philippians 2:5-11 offers the insight we need here:

5In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God,  not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;7rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

All of this is a way of saying what Paul told the Christians in Rome (Romans 6:23): For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We might say it this way: The wages of pride is death… but the gift of God’s humility in Christ, offered on our behalf, is eternal life.

Indeed, in him is righteousness and life. And victory. And peace. And purpose. And joy everlasting. Amen.

 

Wrestling with Pride?

Let me answer that for you. Yes. Yes, you are.

Below are some questions to help you discern the level of your own pride based on our exploration of 1 Chronicles 10 yesterday. (Hint: it’s likely much deeper than you are willing to admit. For more, check out the sermon: https://sjepc.com/sermons/the-price-of-pride/).

Are you happy for others when they get the promotion you wanted? Are you happy for others when they succeed? Are you happy for others when they are blessed? Are you grateful for what God has done for you? Or do you tend to get angry/jealous, thinking you deserve what others have?

Are you willing to do things God’s way—heart, mind, soul, and strength—not only when it’s easy but also when it’s inconvenient?

Does your life bring glory to God or does your life bring glory to the idols of this world? Does your life speak to the glory of God or your love for the idols around you?

Does your life bring joy in the Lord to others or even yourself?

Do your choices lead to life or death? That is, do your choices lead to greater intimacy with God or a greater distance from God?

Again, you can dig deeper by listening at: https://sjepc.com/sermons/the-price-of-pride/

 

 

 

 

Why Worship as One?

Remember this coming Sunday is a Worship as One Sunday at St. John’s. We’ll be in Christ Hall at 10:30.

The sermon title is Manure Happens and Tiffany will be leading our praises. Disclaimer: there is no connection between the sermon title and Sunday’s music leader 🙂

Some of you ask and wonder why we do this and why in Christ Hall?

Prayerfully consider the following reasons:

1. Most importantly are the words from Jesus we find in John 17:20-21 – “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Jesus longs for us to be one because our unity is reflective of who God is himself – A unity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Furthermore, our unity is a sign of our allegiance to Christ and is a witness to a world divided and in conflict and in need of peace. Simply put, Christians MUST lead in ministries of reconciliation. Our unity becomes part of our witness.

2. As members of St. John’s, we need to know that our congregation, our church family, is bigger than our pew, our section of the sanctuary or Christ Hall, and bigger than even our favorite service time. It’s a great chance, then, to see we are a part of something bigger than our typical routines. And it’s a great opportunity to see people you’ve lost touch with or haven’t seen in awhile. 

3. It’s a way to show Christ we are grateful. Having shared the last few weeks from those who live under the threat of persecution, we recognize we are free to worship when and where we please. How great a miracle! We celebrate it together… as one.

4. It’s a way to remind ourselves we are commited to One greater than us. Christ calls us to serve him, his church, and our neighbor. Worshiping as One at a different time and a different location is a practice that reminds us that we don’t gather merely for our benefit but for the glory of God and the good of others. (ie Christ sacrificed for us and at times we are make sacrifices for him and our neighbor.)

5. We worship in Christ Hall on these Sundays because we hold many of our other special services in the sanctuary (eg Christmas Eve, Christmas, Lent, Advent).

6. We worship in Christ Hall because on some of these Sundays (and should be ALL of these Sundays) we don’t have enough room to gather in the sanctuary.

7. We gather at 10:30 for a consistent time because on some of our Worship as One Sundays we gather together for breakfast and on some we gather for lunch. This time slot allows us to be consistent in our time and to fellowship around either of these meals.

Let us together finish the year strong, thanking God for his blessings, and worshiping as one!

Grace and Truth,

Reverend John

Good News – Our Joy

Reflection—December 19, 2018              Luke 1:57-80

God is at work in the barren places. Or maybe it is better to say that God is at work in what seems like barren places because where God is there is life. And there is often more happening than meets the eye. This is where we were the first Wednesday of Advent with Elizabeth and Zechariah, learning they would be giving birth to a son name John. And we are reminded, of course, that our God is the God of hope.

Last week, thinking about peace, our attention turned to Mary. The engaged but not yet married young maiden who lives in not so glamorous Nazareth finds herself impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Difficult as these circumstances might be, Mary embraces her status. We are reminded that our peace is not so much determined by our circumstance as it is by our faith in God’s providence, knowing and trusting that we belong to God.

This week is the week of joy and, as we make our way to the birth of Christ, we turn our attention back to John the Baptist, celebrating his birth.

Read…

In this week’s reading, we are immediately struck with the joy of the events that are transpiring in Elizabeth and Zechariah’s lives. A child is born and the hope that was born in the temple when the angel announced to Zechariah what would transpire is now come to fruition. To the old, once-barren couple a child is born. Neighbors and relatives heard of the mercy God had shown Elizabeth and “they shared her joy.”

As I read that in preparation for today, I was thinking about Sunday’s sermon and our discussion of the connection between gratitude and joy and I was struck by the joy of the surrounding cast. The miracle that comes to Elizabeth and Zechariah is a blessing for all the people. The baby is their joy too. The miracle is their miracle too. Paul puts it this way—when one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers, and when one part rejoices, the whole rejoices. So it is here.

And the joy continues. Once the issue of the name is resolved, Zechariah’s tongue is let loose and he is free to speak and sing and converse and shout and praise God and all those thing for the first time in nine months. And how does Zechariah use his newfound freedom? He does what people do when they are feeling happy and light or even ecstatic. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he sings. And Zechariah’s song is prophetic and yet full of praise.

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago)…

Joy, of course, is full of praise and we can imagine Zechariah was ready to share the good news he’d been unable to share for almost a year. It’s hard not to be joyful about good news. It’s hard not to share good news. And we are blessed by the joy of news from Zechariah and Elizabeth.

 

This is the week of joy… So this afternoon… let us take a few minutes to meditate on joy.

  • And as you do, ponder your own circumstances… and ask that the Lord would not only restore the joy of your salvation but to be able to share that joy with others.
  • And, of course, think of others you know who are struggling with joy… and lift them in prayer to the Lord too.