Wisdom 1 Kings 3:4-15

1 Kings 3:4-15 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
3 Solomon signed a treaty with the king of Egypt and married his daughter. She lived in the older part of Jerusalem until the palace, the Lord’s temple, and the wall around Jerusalem were completed.
2 At that time, there was no temple for worshiping the Lord, and everyone offered sacrifices at the local shrines. 3 Solomon loved the Lord and followed his father David’s instructions, but Solomon also offered sacrifices and burned incense at the shrines.
4 The most important shrine was in Gibeon, and Solomon had offered more than a thousand sacrifices on that altar.
5 One night while Solomon was in Gibeon, the Lord God appeared to him in a dream and said, “Solomon, ask for anything you want, and I will give it to you.”
6 Solomon answered:
My father David, your servant, was honest and did what you commanded. You were always loyal to him, and you gave him a son who is now king. 7 Lord God, I’m your servant, and you’ve made me king in my father’s place. But I’m very young and know so little about being a leader. 8 And now I must rule your chosen people, even though there are too many of them to count.
9 Please make me wise and teach me the difference between right and wrong. Then I will know how to rule your people. If you don’t, there is no way I could rule this great nation of yours.
10-11 God said:
Solomon, I’m pleased that you asked for this. You could have asked to live a long time or to be rich. Or you could have asked for your enemies to be destroyed. Instead, you asked for wisdom to make right decisions. 12 So I’ll make you wiser than anyone who has ever lived or ever will live.
13 I’ll also give you what you didn’t ask for. You’ll be rich and respected as long as you live, and you’ll be greater than any other king. 14 If you obey me and follow my commands, as your father David did, I’ll let you live a long time.
15 Solomon woke up and realized that God had spoken to him in the dream. He went back to Jerusalem and stood in front of the sacred chest, where he offered sacrifices to please the Lord and sacrifices to ask his blessing. Then Solomon gave a feast for his officials.
What did you ask for this past week? A lot of people asked to win the lottery. Whenever the pot of money is about to explode, a lot of us decide it’s time to take a chance and hope we are the lucky ones.
Solomon, in our story today, was a brand-new king. He was on a retreat of sorts, offering sacrifices at the shrine of Gibeon. There was still no temple in Jerusalem, so it was the custom to go up to high places, hills, mountains, anything closer to the sky, to offer sacrifices.
Those places weren’t necessarily dedicated to God; they could have been dedicated to other gods. Why would Solomon worship the gods of other cultures? One explanation is that he had married for political expediency. One such marriage was to the daughter of king of Egypt. So, it is possible that he worshipped those gods as a political strategy.
When God saw Solomon making sacrifices to the false gods, God stepped in. Solomon was spending the night at Gibeon; he rolled out his sleeping bag, climbed in, and fell asleep. Like we all do, Solomon dreamed as he slept. God invited God-self in.
The timing was good because Solomon was new at his job. God was pleased that Solomon was king, because he was the son of David. Once God had given in to the people’s plea for a king of their own, God became actively engaged in assuring that a monarchy, as opposed to the previous system of Judges, would be successful. Nonetheless, Solomon was inexperienced and he would need to be a different kind of king than his father. David was a warrior-king, who secured a sizable kingdom for the Israelites. Solomon would be an administrator king, who would secure the kingdom’s reputation and power and stability. Hence, David, as a king, could not serve as a role model for his son, because his son’s work would be very different from his.
Solomon’s main claim to fame was the building of the temple in Jerusalem. It was David’s idea, but God wanted Solomon to be the one to make it happen. But to make that happen, Solomon would need to rule with skills that David had not needed. Where would he get those skills?
God was on top of it. God inserted God-self into Solomon’s dream
“Solomon, ask for anything you want, and I will give it to you.”
Ask for anything you want. What if God came into your dream? What if God came to you while you were sleeping, totally without distraction from the space around you?
What if, with no forewarning, no time to plan ahead, no time to give this serious thought, God said to you, “Ask for anything you want.”
What would be the first thing to pop into your dreaming mind?
What would my mind answer? I have no clue. If I were awake and had time to think, I can think of lots of answers. But what would my sub-conscious self ask for? What would be my most basic want, my most basic need?
What have we learned in our life experience?
If you have your health, you have everything.
Make more money.
Have fun.
Take care of your family.
Take care of your property.
Keep the bad guys away.
So, I could ask God for good health, for financial security, for protection for my family, for protection for my lifestyle.
Solomon asked for something so wise, that I think he already had it. He asked for wisdom.
But his reply to God is not just an empty hand waiting to be filled.
Praise for God’s actions: “You have shown great and steadfast love … you have kept for him this great and steadfast love” (verse 6).
Humility: “I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in” (verse 7).
Recognition of inadequacy: “And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted” (verse 8).
Praise. Humility. Self-awareness.
We don’t often have God come to us in a dream to grant our every wish. God is not a genie, nor a sugar daddy, nor a winning lottery ticket. In fact, Jesus gave us a direct line to God, so we don’t have to wait for God.
Matthew 7: 7 Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8 Everyone who asks will receive. Everyone who searches will find. And the door will be opened for everyone who knocks. 9 Would any of you give your hungry child a stone, if the child asked for some bread? 10 Would you give your child a snake if the child asked for a fish? 11 As bad as you are, you still know how to give good gifts to your children. But your heavenly Father is even more ready to give good things to people who ask.
Ask. Jesus, speaking for God, says, “ask.” And we do. Our relationship with God gives us the right to ask for what we need.
Sometimes that seems like a turkey shoot. We ask for true love. We ask for healing. We ask for restoration. We ask for security. And, even though Jesus says, ask and it’s yours, we know that’s not always true. There are unanswered prayers. There are untimely deaths. There are empty cupboards. There are broken relationships. Conflict, from between family members to between nations, is always present.
Yet, we ask, because we trust God for the right answer. Have you ever wished for do-overs? Ray Bradbury wrote a story one time about parents who had lost their son. The mother prayed over and over for the son to return to life. Finally, one night, there was a knock on the door. The son was outside. But it was not the son she had prayed for; it was the son who had been lying in a grave for weeks, body decayed but life restored. The father realizes the mistake of the prayer and prevents the son from entering.
The point is, we must trust God’s wisdom and not our own when we ask for our deepest desires in prayer.
Solomon asked for wisdom.
9 Please make me wise and teach me the difference between right and wrong. Then I will know how to rule your people. If you don’t, there is no way I could rule this great nation of yours.
How does Solomon define wisdom? The difference between right and wrong. Do we know the difference between right and wrong? Has God given us wisdom? I think so, if we are careful enough to use it. Wisdom means we think before we act or speak. Wisdom opens our eyes and ears and hearts to the people in our lives. Wisdom turns our hearts to God in all times and places.
10-11 God said:
Solomon, I’m pleased that you asked for this. You could have asked to live a long time or to be rich. Or you could have asked for your enemies to be destroyed. Instead, you asked for wisdom to make right decisions. 12 So I’ll make you wiser than anyone who has ever lived or ever will live.
And then, even though he didn’t ask, God said:
13 I’ll also give you what you didn’t ask for. You’ll be rich and respected as long as you live, and you’ll be greater than any other king. 14 If you obey me and follow my commands, as your father David did, I’ll let you live a long time.
I’ll give you what you didn’t ask for. Have you been given anything you didn’t ask for? Has God given you anything that brings you joy or keeps you safe?
God has given me plenty. I never planned to be a teacher. God gave me a path that lead to wonderful years with teenagers, showing life to them through the eyes of Shakespeare and Bradbury and Euripides and Denisovich and Dickinson. And I never planned to be a pastor, but God gave me opportunities through classes and pastors and congregations and here I am, as happy as I’ve ever been.
Today is Reformation Sunday, the Sunday that we observe as part of our faith history. Martin Luther was given wisdom by God, as well as courage, and intelligence. Luther loved God, loved Jesus, and he loved the church so much, that like a parent, he sought to correct it. Through the centuries, other wise ones have sought to keep the church pure and practical and authentic and true to the teachings of the Bible and of Jesus. That Reformation is not dead. The church is constantly being redirected back to its true purpose. We are a part of that. We are not professors or theologians or even reformers, but we are the wholly invested, wholly alive members of the Church.
It behooves us to ask for wisdom, as representatives of the Church and as children of God.
Let us approach God as Solomon did, with praise and humility and with our own needs. God has delivered. Jesus has promised. Amen.

Generous God, you gave your servant Solomon wisdom so that he might govern your people well. Grant us your wisdom, so that we might perform our life’s duties with gratitude and wisdom. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Repentance…….. 2 Samuel 11 & 12l Psalm 51

2 Samuel 11 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
11 It was now spring, the time when kings go to war. David sent out the whole Israelite army under the command of Joab and his officers. They destroyed the Ammonite army and surrounded the capital city of Rabbah, but David stayed in Jerusalem.
2-4 Late one afternoon, David got up from a nap and was walking around on the flat roof of his palace. A beautiful young woman was down below in her courtyard, bathing as her religion required. David happened to see her, and he sent one of his servants to find out who she was.
The servant came back and told David, “Her name is Bathsheba. She is the daughter of Eliam, and she is the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”
David sent some messengers to bring her to his palace. She came to him, and he slept with her. Then she returned home. 5 But later, when she found out that she was going to have a baby, she sent someone to David with this message: “I’m pregnant!”
6 David sent a message to Joab: “Send Uriah the Hittite to me.”
Joab sent Uriah 7 to David’s palace, and David asked him, “Is Joab well? How is the army doing? And how about the war?” 8 Then David told Uriah, “Go home and clean up.” Uriah left the king’s palace, and David had dinner sent to Uriah’s house. 9 But Uriah didn’t go home. Instead, he slept outside the entrance to the royal palace, where the king’s guards slept.
10 Someone told David that Uriah had not gone home. So the next morning David asked him, “Why didn’t you go home? Haven’t you been away for a long time?”
11 Uriah answered, “The sacred chest and the armies of Israel and Judah are camping out somewhere in the fields with our commander Joab and his officers and troops. Do you really think I would go home to eat and drink and sleep with my wife? I swear by your life that I would not!”
12 Then David said, “Stay here in Jerusalem today, and I will send you back tomorrow.”
Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day. Then the next day, 13 David invited him for dinner. Uriah ate with David and drank so much that he got drunk, but he still did not go home. He went out and slept on his mat near the palace guards. 14 Early the next morning, David wrote a letter and told Uriah to deliver it to Joab. 15 The letter said: “Put Uriah on the front line where the fighting is the worst. Then pull the troops back from him, so that he will be wounded and die.”
16 Joab had been carefully watching the city of Rabbah, and he put Uriah in a place where he knew there were some of the enemy’s best soldiers. 17 When the men of the city came out, they fought and killed some of David’s soldiers—Uriah the Hittite was one of them.
26 When Bathsheba heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 Then after the time for mourning was over, David sent someone to bring her to the palace. She became David’s wife, and they had a son.
The Lord was angry at what David had done,
2 Samuel 12 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
12 1 and he sent Nathan the prophet to tell this story to David:
A rich man and a poor man lived in the same town. 2 The rich man owned a lot of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had only one little lamb that he had bought and raised. The lamb became a pet for him and his children. He even let it eat from his plate and drink from his cup and sleep on his lap. The lamb was like one of his own children.
4 One day someone came to visit the rich man, but the rich man didn’t want to kill any of his own sheep or cattle and serve it to the visitor. So he stole the poor man’s little lamb and served it instead.
5 David was furious with the rich man and said to Nathan, “I swear by the living Lord that the man who did this deserves to die! 6 And because he didn’t have any pity on the poor man, he will have to pay four times what the lamb was worth.”
7 Then Nathan told David:
You are that rich man! Now listen to what the Lord God of Israel says to you: “I chose you to be the king of Israel. I kept you safe from Saul 8 and even gave you his house and his wives. I let you rule Israel and Judah, and if that had not been enough, I would have given you much more. 9 Why did you disobey me and do such a horrible thing? You murdered Uriah the Hittite by having the Ammonites kill him, so you could take his wife.
David sinned. And sinned. And sinned.
That’s how it is with sin. We commit one sin. And then we have to commit another. Let’s say I lie about something. When someone asks me about it, I have to lie again, or admit that I lied. But if I tell the truth, then I’ll get in trouble or maybe someone else will get in trouble. Sins can stick like glue.
David broke several commandments. One led to another. He started with the 10th Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Bathsheba was David’s neighbor’s wife. That led to the Sixth Commandment: You shall not commit adultery.
David made Bathsheba pregnant.
That required breaking the Eighth Commandment: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. David tried everything he could think of to get Uriah into Bathsheba’s bed. Uriah instead remained loyal to the cause and the King.
That led to the Fifth Commandment: You shall not murder. David had his general, Joab, put Uriah in the front lines where he would surely meet death.
Finally, David broke the Seventh Commandment: he stole Uriah’s wife.
One after another, the Commandments tumbled like houses in a hurricane.
Another hero, kicked off his pedestal. And yet, David wasn’t.
Some of my colleagues are preaching on the parallels between the current administration and the administration of King David. You might think that I had chosen this text specifically to go with current headlines. Nope. The text for this Sunday was chosen years ago by two Luther Seminary professors, Rolf Jacobson and Craig Koester.
This is the second text we’ve had this fall which seems to focus on the Sixth Commandment. No adultery allowed. But adultery is only one of ten major sins we humans like to commit.
Adultery, especially non-consensual adultery has been making headlines for quite some time now. We have the #MeToo movement scattering Tweets and posts all over social media. Hardly an evening goes by when the news doesn’t give us the latest example of someone, usually male, forcing his wishes on someone, usually female or a minor. The latest is the basketball coach. I hope you didn’t read the details.
So, if David were president, or a basketball coach, or a priest in 2018, he would be sitting on his suitcase in an alley or hiding behind his gated residence mansion. But that’s not what happened to David, circa 1,000 BCE. David continued as King David. His progeny continued for generations until his greatest grandchild ever was born in a stable—not a palace or a castle, but a stable—-hundreds of years later.
How did that happen? Who knows? But today’s story about Nathan’s visit is instructive for us. We can learn from that visit. David surely did!
First of all, based on David’s reaction to Nathan’s story and on his sudden realization of his own sin, I don’t think David really had thought that he had done much wrong. After all, he was the King and he could take what he wanted.
That’s what kings do: they take. Listen to Samuel’s warnings to the Hebrew people when they demanded that God give them a king:
10 Samuel told the people who were asking for a king what the Lord had said:
14 The king will take your best fields, as well as your vineyards, and olive orchards and give them to his own officials. 15 He will also take a tenth of your grain and grapes and give it to his officers and officials.
16 The king will take your slaves and your best young men and your donkeys and make them do his work. 17 He will also take a tenth of your sheep and goats. You will become the king’s slaves, 18 and you will finally cry out for the Lord to save you from the king you wanted. But the Lord won’t answer your prayers. 1 Samuel 8
So, David was doing what kings do. The king, for reasons that have to do with power, can have anything the king desires. A king can rule with wisdom or by fear. If the king rules with fear, people give him what he wants. But that’s not the only reason David remained in power.
David repented. How much repentance have you heard from those accused on the evening news? I haven’t heard any. I’ve seen judgement. I’ve seen punishment. I’ve seen disgrace and loss. But I haven’t seen repentance.
David repented. 13-14 David said, “I have disobeyed the Lord.” The depth of his repentance is found not in 2 Samuel, but in Psalm 51, the Psalm traditionally attributed to him as repentance for his sins against Bathsheba and Uriah.
Nathan leads David to understand his own sin. You are that rich man! In that moment, David repents, not just with a Gee, I’m sorry, but with heart-rending remorse:
I know about my sins, and I cannot forget my terrible guilt. You are really the one I have sinned against; I have disobeyed you and have done wrong. So it is right and fair for you to correct and punish me. Psalm 51
How refreshing it would be to hear one of our celebrities say “I know about my sins, and I cannot forget my terrible guilt. So it is right and fair for you to correct and punish me.” I cannot believe that all the charges that have rung out in the last few months are all false. Surely some are true and surely the rich man has stolen the poor man’s little lamb.
Now, what does this have to do with us? I look at you and I see the kindest, sweetest, humblest people in the world. Why would I expect you to be guilty of breaking any commandments? How could any of you possibly even think of disobeying God?
We are sinful. In one of the oldest liturgies of the Church “We confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean.” Maybe our sins don’t have the soap opera drama of David’s sins. Maybe nobody will ever turn our sins into a best selling paperback. But we sin. We know we do.
One thing that has puzzled me for a long time is something I was taught in Confirmation. I was taught that a sin is a sin is a sin. No sin is worse than another. So when the media makes a big deal of sins related to sexual transgressions, I wonder which sins are being ignored and why this one sin is so important to the public good. Granted, like most sins, one sin leads to another. But what about stealing? What about lying? What about observing a Sabbath Day? Does God just laugh those off and focus on certain sins?
I think not. All sins are against God. One explanation of Nathan’s accusation of David is that Nathan is telling David to look in the mirror. That’s all we have to do. Look in the mirror of the Ten Commandments. Read each commandment. How does that commandment reflect your actions? your thoughts? your words?
David had a prophet to keep him in line. I’m kind of glad I don’t have someone trying to keep me in line. Admittedly, there have been times when I should have had someone dangling the ten commandments in front of my face.
So, we, like David, know that we disobey God. And, we like David, can repent. The depth of your sorrow, the honesty of your repentance depends on how much you love God. If I think God is a nice idea, but not relevant to every part of my life, my repentance is not going to be really heartfelt. If I depend on God, if I love God with every fiber of my heart and mind and soul, my repentance is going to be as genuine and as beautiful as David’s psalm.
The thing about repentance is it is not a dead end. Repentence brings restoration. Just as David was restored to God’s grace, so am I. When I repent, I am also able to ask God to restore me as the person God created me to be.
Jesus says: I tell you that any sinful thing you do or say can be forgiven. Even if you speak against the Son of Man, you can be forgiven. Matthew 12:31
Create pure thoughts in me and make me faithful again. Only you can save me! Then I will shout and sing about your power to save. Amen.

Your Choice Joshua 24

Joshua was a general. What do generals do? They lead people into war. In this part of our common Judeo-Christian history, God has chosen Joshua to lead the Israelites in a campaign to recapture Canaan. God’s instructions are to decimate the entire population of Canaan. Why did God want to clear out all the Canaanites? Not because God is mean and hates foreigners. Not because there wasn’t enough room for both the Israelites and the Canaanites. God was worried about one thing. God was afraid that the Israelites would forget about worshiping God and would revert to worshiping the Canaanite gods.

Since the days of Abraham, God’s chosen people have been in close relationship with God. Or they have tried. And God has tried. God hopes that if the temptation of worshiping other gods is removed, the Israelites will not be distracted from worshipping the God who has led them and who has kept the promise to get them off the road and into a home with a permanent address.

Joshua is getting old. Much of Canaan has been conquered and the Israelites are ready to settle down. Joshua calls every citizen to Shechem, a historical site where Joseph’s bones had been buried. The plot had originally been purchased by Joseph’s father, Jacob. First, Joshua reminds the people of their history:
Long ago your ancestors lived on the other side of the Euphrates River, and they worshiped other gods. This continued until the time of your ancestor Terah and his two sons, Abraham and Nahor. 3 But I brought Abraham across the Euphrates River and led him through the land of Canaan. I blessed him by giving him Isaac, the first in a line of many descendants. 4 Then I gave Isaac two sons, Jacob and Esau. I had Esau live in the hill country of Mount Seir, but your ancestor Jacob and his children went to live in Egypt.
5-6 Later I sent Moses and his brother Aaron to help your people, and I made all those horrible things happen to the Egyptians. I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, but the Egyptians got in their chariots and on their horses and chased your ancestors, catching up with them at the Red Sea. 7 Your people cried to me for help, so I put a dark cloud between them and the Egyptians. Then I opened up the sea and let your people walk across on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, I commanded the sea to swallow them, and they drowned while you watched.
You lived in the desert for a long time, [8 then I brought you into the land east of the Jordan River. The Amorites were living there, and they fought you. But with my help, you defeated them, wiped them out, and took their land. 9 King Balak decided that his nation Moab would go to war against you, so he asked Balaam to come and put a curse on you. 10 But I wouldn’t listen to Balaam, and I rescued you by making him bless you instead of curse you.]
11 You crossed the Jordan River and came to Jericho. [The rulers of Jericho fought you, and so did the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. I helped you defeat them all.] 12 Your enemies ran from you, but not because you had swords and bows and arrows. I made your enemies panic and run away,[ as I had done with the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River.]

Frankly, this is the part of God’s plan that makes me uncomfortable:
13 You didn’t have to work for this land—I gave it to you. Now you live in towns you didn’t build, and you eat grapes and olives from vineyards and trees you didn’t plant.
However, the point of this narrative is not to question the strategies of God: the point is that God provides for God’s people.
Now that Joshua is retiring as leader of the Israelites, he prepares them for this new way of life, this life of being permanently settled. He fears, and rightfully so, based on previous examples, that the Israelites will forget the God who has been so loyal to them. He is afraid they will assimilate with their neighbors and forget who they are and who has sustained them, from the time of Abraham to the present.
Joshua knows that there are other gods, and that they are attractive, because when the one true God appears to not be delivering the goods, the wishes, the needs of the people, it is easy to find other gods who will.

One of the sources I consulted put it this way:
You will either serve the LORD God or your own interests, in this case represented by “other gods.”  Other gods would have been attractive, I admit; they often promised good harvests, fertility, prosperity, favorable weather, etc.  All the comforts of ancient life, things to make a hard life easier if only you make the appropriate sacrifices and do the right rituals.  Service to these gods demanded comparatively little over and against the demands of the God of Israel. (http://gmcelroy.typepad.com/desertscribblings/2008/11/november-9-2008—twenty-sixth-sunday-after-pentecost.html)

I think we can apply this thinking to our own lives. We can either serve God or our own interests. What “gods” are attractive to us? To whom do we turn when we want good harvests, fertility, prosperity? To whom do we turn when we want the comforts of life, when we want an easier life? Who is the god that provides prosperity? Money, of course. And how do we worship that god of money? There is a portion of our culture that values a strong work ethic. (https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/sarah-vermunt/strong-work-ethic_b_9691640.html)

However, I can attest that a strong work ethic can be a demanding god who requires sacrifices, not of perfect young bulls on a bloody altar, but instead requires sacrifices of morals, of family, of health, of compassion. I remember when I used to work 10 hour days at one job and then another three or four shifts at another job. What did I sacrifice? My children and my husband. Add to that time wasted the time I spent as a super-volunteer, belonging to a dozen organizations, getting my name in the paper for one project or another. My work ethic was amazing. My output, my product, good. But it didn’t have to be that amazing, that good. I lost valuable time with my children and I will always regret that.

Of course, I was serving God, at that same time—teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir—but serving and sacrificing go hand in hand and the healthy balance is elusive.

Back to the scripture: we live in the land of Canaan, a promised land in many ways, a wonderful land, but we are also surrounded by the temptations to serve other gods.

Joshua’s concern on this day that he gathered all the tribes of Israel together was that they choose, deliberately choose whom they will serve. God does not coerce or even expect worship from the Israelites—or us. God let’s us choose.

Listen to Joshua’s speech: Worship the Lord, obey him, and always be faithful. Get rid of the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived on the other side of the Euphrates River and in Egypt. 15 But if you don’t want to worship the Lord, then choose right now! Will you worship the same idols your ancestors did? Or since you’re living on land that once belonged to the Amorites, maybe you’ll worship their gods. I won’t. My family and I are going to worship and obey the Lord!
Choose right now!, Joshua says. You have a choice. You can worship any gods you want. God is not going to force your loyalty. And then he says those stirring words:

My family and I are going to worship and obey the Lord!

You can find the King James Version of this verse in Hobby Lobby, Michael’s and Christian book stores painted and framed and ready to hang in your home: “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It’s one of those catchy Bible verses that is as ubiquitous as Baby Jesus at Christmas time.

But it is a choice, and as a Christian, I like the idea of that sign hanging in every Christian home.

The people of Israel respond with a big cheer 16 The people answered:
We could never worship other gods or stop worshiping the Lord.
But Joshua knows these people. He’s lived with them his whole life; he knows their history. So he asks them to think about this.
19 Joshua said: The Lord is fearsome; he is the one true God, and I don’t think you are able to worship and obey him in the ways he demands.

Again, the people, caught up in the excitement, declare
“We won’t worship any other gods. We will worship and obey only the Lord!”

Joshua asks them one more time to think very carefully about this promise: “You have heard yourselves say that you will worship and obey the Lord. Isn’t that true?”
“Yes, it’s true,” they answered.
Joshua then gives them an ultimatum:
23 Joshua said, “But you still have some idols, like those the other nations worship. Get rid of your idols! You must decide once and for all that you really want to obey the Lord God of Israel.”
And for a third time, the Israelites promise:
“The Lord is our God, and we will worship and obey only him.”
Joshua, being a wise leader, made them put it on paper:
25 Joshua helped Israel make an agreement with the Lord that day at Shechem. Joshua made laws for Israel 26 and wrote them down in The Book of the Law of God. Then he set up a large stone under the oak tree at the place of worship in Shechem 27 and told the people, “Look at this stone. It has heard everything that the Lord has said to us. Our God can call this stone as a witness if we ever reject him.”

The most important result of this event is not that Israel has finally arrived in the Promised Land. Most important is that the people themselves make a covenant with God to serve God always. The CEV uses the words “serve” and “obey.” Using the words “serve” and “obey” instead of worship gives a clearer meaning of what it means to worship God. Worshipping God is more than warming a pew on a Sunday morning. Worshipping God is more than singing songs that praise and thank God. Worshipping God is serving and obeying. Love God. Love our neighbor. In the wide world of our Promised Land, that means that we work for justice for all, that we care for all, that we provide as we are able.

The prophet Amos reminded us of this years after Joshua and the people signed the covenant with God.
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.  Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.  Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:21-24).

Let justice and righteousness roll like an ever-flowing stream.

That might sound like an impossible order for our small congregation. But we start with prayer. And then we continue with our neighbor. We don’t have to save the whole world. When Jesus says, “neighbor,” he means what we mean by neighbor. The person who lives next to us, who lives in our community. Let justice flow for that person who is sad, who is desperate, who is forgotten, who is needy.

We have that power. We have the tools of the Holy Spirit:
Galatians 5:22-23 New International Version (NIV)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

We have an arsenal that is way beyond the power of the bows and arrows and spears of the Israelites. Our arsenal is more powerful than the stockpiled bombs of all the countries of the world. We have love. Joy. Peace. Forbearance. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. If we just used self-control alone, what a difference we would make.

So, when you choose to serve and obey God, you can stock your shelves, not with guns, not with bricks of gold, but with the fruit of the Sprit. love. Joy. Peace. Forbearance. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. Then all in your household will be able to serve and obey God. Amen.

Pop Quiz! Matthew 16: 13-19

Matthew 16: 13 When Jesus and his disciples were near the town of Caesarea Philippi, he asked them, “What do people say about the Son of Man?”
14 The disciples answered, “Some people say you are John the Baptist or maybe Elijah or Jeremiah or some other prophet.”
15 Then Jesus asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter spoke up, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus told him:
Simon, son of Jonah, you are blessed!
You didn’t discover this on your own.
It was shown to you by my Father in heaven.
18 So I will call you Peter, which means “a rock.”
On this rock I will build my church, and death itself will not have any power over it.
19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and God in heaven will allow whatever you allow on earth.
But he will not allow anything that you don’t allow.
Three points
How does Jesus make sure He is not forgotten?
What are the keys to the kingdom of heaven?
Who do you say Jesus is?
In Mark and Luke, Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say I am? In Matthew, He asks the disciples, “Who do YOU say that I am?
What is the difference?
In Mark and Luke, the conversation could just be about catching up on local gossip at the end of long day. What’s everybody saying about me? But in Matthew’s version, the question is like a pop quiz. Who do YOU say that I am?
Remember pop quizzes? Unannounced, but ostensibly you were supposed to have read and understood something important during the last few class periods. Pop quizzes are a teaching technique designed to see how effective the teacher has been, or, on occasion, designed to trap the unprepared. Jesus’ pop quiz was a way for him to evaluate the disciples understanding. Jesus had only so much time to prepare the disciples for his departure, and if they still didn’t understand, then his first priority had to be their education.
His identity is critical to his mission. If the disciples don’t understand that he is the Son of the living God, then his death and resurrection will go unnoticed.
What is Jesus’ vision for the future?
He turns to Peter. Peter, of all the disciples. Peter is the last person a committee on church start ups would have chosen. I would have chosen John or Jame or Thomas. Peter is unpredictable. Peter is impetuous. He acts without thinking. And, a few days after this conversation, he denies even knowing Jesus, not once, but three times. How can one spread the Jesus legacy if one denies any association or knowledge of Jesus?
It’s kind of fun to look at the original Greek words for “rock” and “Peter.”
“I say to you Peter (Petros) that on this rock (petra) I shall build my ekklesia  (assembly; usually translated church) and the gates of Hades shall not overpower her”
Peter is both the “little stone” (petros) and the “rock” (petra) to which Jesus refers. Protestants have for centuries tangled themselves up in the most convoluted game of intellectual Twister trying to deny this, but it is unavoidable. The narrator has Jesus making a pun and it’s only funny if Peter is its object: “You are a pebble and upon this ‘rock’ I’m going to build my church…”

Why Peter? What does it take to be a good leader? What about Peter makes him most qualified to secure the teachings of Jesus and the good news of the Messiah into the next generations? Peter is impetuous—-that translates into initiative, the ability to get started. Peter acts without thinking; he thinks with his heart. Where does our faith most securely reside? Not in our analytical brains. Faith resides in our vulnerable, trusting hearts. And Peter understands forgiveness like no one else. After Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared on the beach one morning, just as the disciples were coming in from a long night of fishing. Jesus fixed them some breakfast.
John 2115 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 1
To be forgiven for that most egregious sin of denial, to be forgiven three times, was the turning point for Peter. He went on to lead the church in Jerusalem and beyond and to indeed be the rock, the foundation for the new church.
Now, let’s turn to the fine print:
19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and God in heaven will allow whatever you allow on earth.
But he will not allow anything that you don’t allow.
As a metaphorical symbol, Jesus gives Peter the keys to the kingdom. What does that mean?
The NRSV uses the words “loose” and “bind,” as does the King James Version. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
I’ve never understood what that meant. Fortunately, other people have. The version I read from today is from the Contemporary English Version, and that makes it clearer, but let me share with you where the original idea came from. This is from one of the textbooks I am reading:
Rabbis bound the law when they determined that a commandment was applicable to a particular situation, and they loosed the law when they determined that a word of Scripture, though eternally valid, was not applicable under certain circumstances.
In other words, the Law is flexible; it is made for human living, for the complications of the blurry mix of reds and greens and purples of our lives. How many decisions have you faced that had multiple consequences? A single solution could be helpful or harmful. Sometimes keeping your mouth shut, even when a commandment is smashed to smithereens, is the “loosing” of the law that fits the situation best.
Dr. Mitzi J. Smith (Professor at Ashland Theological Seminary,Detroit, Michigan):
The heavens are witnesses of the people and things that we imprison and the people and things that we set free. When we restrict justice to the dominant and powerful and release or enact unjust laws that impact the most vulnerable among us and in the earth, heaven knows and is impacted too. Matthew’s Jesus said when you have treated the most vulnerable — the stranger/foreigner, the imprisoned, those with no homes, the hungry, and those without clean, affordable water — with compassion, justice, and human care, you have done so to me (Matthew 25:44-45). What we do on earth matters and it has an impact in the heavens and in the atmosphere around us.
I can’t think of more contemporary, up-to-date, relevant explanation than that.
And that brings me to our last point: Who do you say Jesus is? And, more importantly, HOW do you say who Jesus is?
Who are you willing to be? What are you willing to do? How does your community know that you follow Jesus? I am not asking this to make you squirm. I am asking us to think carefully about how the rest of the world, from your card-playing friends to your doctor to your colleagues, know that you follow Jesus. How does the cashier at the grocery store, the coach of your grandchild’s basketball team, the waitress at your favorite restaurant, know that they can trust you because you are a follower of Jesus?
Why, you may ask, do those people need to know anything about your personal beliefs? Because you have taken up residence in the kingdom of God and that is part of the covenant: when you claim to be a child of God, you are promising to act like a child of God. Just as the covenant for a condo means that you don’t paint your windows orange or raise rabbits in the basement, your covenant with God says that you demonstrate through your actions, your words, your associations, that you love and respect God and that you love and respect your neighbor.
Your presence here today indicates that you are indeed a follower of The Way of Jesus. Your presence at this table today confirms your acceptance of the new Covenant, signed in Jesus’ blood. Let our presence in our community speak that same bold message. Let the words of Peter, with equal impetuosity, burst from our hearts, our minds, our mouths, our actions, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!!!” Amen.

Powell, Mark Allan. Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey (Kindle Locations 3033-3038). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

PANIC! Exodus 1, 3, 14

Exodus 1:22 So Pharaoh issued a general order to all his people: “Every boy that is born, drown him in the Nile. But let the girls live.”
2 1-3 A man from the family of Levi married a Levite woman. The woman became pregnant and had a son.
She saw there was something special about him and hid him. She hid him for three months. When she couldn’t hide him any longer she got a little basket-boat made of papyrus, waterproofed it with tar and pitch, and placed the child in it. Then she set it afloat in the reeds at the edge of the Nile.
4-6 The baby’s older sister found herself a vantage point a little way off and watched to see what would happen to him. Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the Nile to bathe; her maidens strolled on the bank. She saw the basket-boat floating in the reeds and sent her maid to get it. She opened it and saw the child—a baby crying! Her heart went out to him. She said, “This must be one of the Hebrew babies.”
7 Then his sister was before her: “Do you want me to go and get a nursing mother from the Hebrews so she can nurse the baby for you?”
8 Pharaoh’s daughter said, “Yes. Go.” The girl went and called the child’s mother.
9 Pharaoh’s daughter told her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me. I’ll pay you.” The woman took the child and nursed him.
10 After the child was weaned, she presented him to Pharaoh’s daughter who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses (Pulled-Out), saying, “I pulled him out of the water.”
11-12 Time passed. Moses grew up. One day he went and saw his brothers, saw all that hard labor. Then he saw an Egyptian hit a Hebrew—one of his relatives! He looked this way and then that; when he realized there was no one in sight, he killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.
13 The next day he went out there again. Two Hebrew men were fighting. He spoke to the man who started it: “Why are you hitting your neighbor?”
14 The man shot back: “Who do you think you are, telling us what to do? Are you going to kill me the way you killed that Egyptian?”
Then Moses panicked: “Word’s gotten out—people know about this.”
23 Many years later the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery and cried out. Their cries for relief from their hard labor ascended to God:
24 God listened to their groanings.
God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
25 God saw what was going on with Israel.
God understood.

3 1-2 Moses was shepherding the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the west end of the wilderness and came to the mountain of God, Horeb. The angel of God appeared to him in flames of fire blazing out of the middle of a bush. He looked. The bush was blazing away but it didn’t burn up.
3 Moses said, “What’s going on here? I can’t believe this! Amazing! Why doesn’t the bush burn up?”
4 God saw that he had stopped to look. God called to him from out of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
He said, “Yes? I’m right here!”
5 God said, “Don’t come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet. You’re standing on holy ground.”
6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father: The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”
Moses hid his face, afraid to look at God.
Exodus 14:10-14 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
10 When the Israelites saw the king coming with his army, they were frightened and begged the Lord for help. 11 They also complained to Moses, “Wasn’t there enough room in Egypt to bury us? Is that why you brought us out here to die in the desert? Why did you bring us out of Egypt anyway? 12 While we were there, didn’t we tell you to leave us alone? We had rather be slaves in Egypt than die in this desert!”
13 But Moses answered, “Don’t be afraid! Be brave, and you will see the Lord save you today. These Egyptians will never bother you again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you won’t have to do a thing.”
Exodus 14:21-29 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
21 Moses stretched his arm over the sea, and the Lord sent a strong east wind that blew all night until there was dry land where the water had been. The sea opened up, 22 and the Israelites walked through on dry land with a wall of water on each side.
23 The Egyptian chariots and cavalry went after them. 24 But before daylight the Lord looked down at the Egyptian army from the fiery cloud and made them PANIC!
25 Their chariot wheels got stuck, and it was hard for them to move. So the Egyptians said to one another, “Let’s leave these people alone! The Lord is on their side and is fighting against us.”
26 The Lord told Moses, “Stretch your arm toward the sea—the water will cover the Egyptians and their cavalry and chariots.” 27 Moses stretched out his arm, and at daybreak the water rushed toward the Egyptians. They tried to run away, but the Lord drowned them in the sea. 28 The water came and covered the chariots, the cavalry, and the whole Egyptian army that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them was left alive. 29 But the sea had made a wall of water on each side of the Israelites; so they walked through on dry land.
Imagine the panic of Jochebed, Moses’ mother, as she tried to hide her son. Imagine her panic when she saw the Pharaoh’s daughter pull her infant son out of the water.
Imagine the panic Moses felt, when, as a grown man, he was discovered to have killed a man?
Imagine the panic the Israelites must have felt, facing a huge body of water while hearing the horses and chariots of the Egyptian army behind them?
What makes you panic? When in your life have you panicked?
We humans are wired to react to panic, that is to a situation that threatens our safety. The common name for this reaction is “fight or flight.” When we are frightened, our brain stimulates hormones that give us super powers—-or at least more power than we usually feel. From a website:
By priming your body for action, you are better prepared to perform under pressure. The stress created by the situation can actually be helpful, making it more likely that you will cope effectively with the threat. This type of stress can help you perform better in situations where you are under pressure to do well, such as at work or school. In cases where the threat is life-threatening, the fight-or-flight response can actually play a critical role in your survival. By gearing you up to fight or flee, the fight-or-flight response makes it more likely that you will survive the danger. (https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-fight-or-flight-response-2795194)
God provided a path through the Red Sea—dry land miraculously appeared, dividing the sea into two walls of water.
What kind of path does God provide for us in our time? The answer seems simple because we have a saying, a belief, that says Jesus is The Way. The early Christians referred to their religion as “The Way.” (Acts 19)
That path, that Way, is not made of asphalt or stones. It is not visible beneath our feet or the tires of our cars. There is no speed limit on this path. There is plenty of traffic, but all who walk this way follow the road signs that say “Love God” and “Love one another.”
Not all threats cause us to physically leave the scene or punch somebody. We Christians have another option: When we face emotional threats, mental threats, threats from the stress of our responsibilities and obligations, we have gentler sources, safer sources. We have God, who is always ready to listen to our fears. We have each other, in our Christian community.
Jesus says, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” Jesus faced and conquered the threat of death. Jesus walked the hardest path; we can trust Him. Even in the scariest times, we can swallow our panic, and reach for Jesus. Amen.