Jeshurun

Isaiah 44:1-4 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

What names do we go by?  Some of us have nicknames.  Some of us are known by our middle names.  We are known by our name.

God uses several names when he is talking to his people.  Israel and Judah, though designating the northern and southern kingdoms, are used in the prophets.  We are familiar with Zion, which typically refers to Jerusalem.  We call the land of Israel the Holy Land.  Here we read God calling Israel both Jacob and Jeshurun.  The name Jacob goes back to the time before Jacob wrestled with God and won. 

Jeshurun.  That is not a name we know for Israel.  God knows it.  He is letting Israel know that the same God who blessed them in Deuteronomy (32:15), is the same God who blesses them through Isaiah’s prophecy.  What a word of promise for Israel as they are facing dry ground and have little hope for their offspring!

How does God speak with us?  Do we hear God speaking our names?  Do I hear God speaking my name, a name that only God and those close to me use?

Lord, thank you for speaking through the prophets.  Thank you for speaking to us.  It is by listening to you that we find how well you know our situations.  You give us reassurance and promises for what is happening in our lives.  You do know us!  In the name of Jesus Christ, may we find all the blessings you have for us.  Amen.

Here I Am, Lord!

Isaiah 6:1-8 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

It was at Cedar Point during the East Ohio Youth Annual Conference that the power of a hymn drew me in.  Hundreds of youth from East Ohio were gathered at the amusement park for a yearly business session.  The worship was full of powerful music and Scripture.  It was during the singing of “Here I Am, Lord” from the United Methodist Hymnal (593) that I began to discern God was calling me to preach.

Since that time more than three decades ago, my call to preach about Jesus Christ has been affirmed in many ways.  I caught up with an old high school friend recently.  During our conversation over dinner, he told me, “I knew back in high school you were going to be a preacher.”  What an affirmation!

We may not have a vision like Isaiah.  We may not have an angel touch our lips with a coal from a heavenly altar.  However, God is still calling people to preach!  God has sermons for women and men to preach that will turn the hearts of men and women to Jesus Christ.  God desires for humanity to turn to Him.  God uses you and me in this work.

Is God speaking to this generation, asking “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  If so, know that though the news is good regarding Jesus Christ, turning from our ways to the ways of God will be dangerous.  Preachers will not consistently satisfy the church while being faithful to God.  It is the message from God found through Jesus Christ risen from the grave that will be spoken by those called by God to a people of unclean lips.

God asks for us.  We respond.  God brings people to himself through our preaching.

Lord, you are holy, and your glory fills the earth.  We are a people of unclean lips.  As you call forth those who will go for you, may women and men respond with, “Send me!” Keep sending your preachers to deliver the good news of Jesus Christ.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we ask for the preachers of today to continually go where you send them.  Amen.

The Suffering Servant

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (NRSV)

See, my servant shall prosper;
    he shall be exalted and lifted up,
    and shall be very high.
Just as there were many who were astonished at him
    —so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of mortals—
so he shall startle many nations;
    kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which had not been told them they shall see,
    and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
Who has believed what we have heard?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
    a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
    Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
    and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
    he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
    Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
    The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

God, thank you for this description of Jesus’ persecution and death.  May your will prosper in us through our faith in Jesus.  It is by that faith we find you make us righteous in Christ.  Help us to know how good we have it in this life because of Jesus’ suffering.  Prepare us to live and die like Jesus Christ so our family, friends and enemies may know the righteousness that we all can have in Christ.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

What a Savior!

Isaiah 50:4-9 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

Wednesday of Holy Week means we are one day closer to Jesus’ arrest, flogging, trial, crucifixion and death.  Centuries before Holy Week, Isaiah tells us about the servant of God who will be humiliated and vindicated.  Now, almost two millennia after Holy Week, we continue to realize all the servant of God went through.  This prophecy shows how the servant of God did not turn back.

We know this servant of the Lord to be Jesus the Christ.  Yes, he was a teacher.  But he is so much more than that!  Yes, he was obedient to the Lord God.  But he did not turn back when he was abused.  Yes, he had his face set like flint.  But no one could contend with him.

The determination of Jesus the Christ leads us onward.  His willingness to suffer for us is forgotten when we fail to receive the Lord’s Supper.  We can not do any better than our Savior, Jesus the Christ! 

Will we contend with Jesus?  Will we confront Jesus?  Will we declare Jesus guilty?  We are not capable of doing these tasks.  Our life is but a breath.  We will wear out.  The truth about Jesus the Christ will contend with us.  The truth about Jesus will confront us.  The truth about our guilt is known by Jesus the Christ.  When we decide for Jesus in our lives, then there is no condemnation for us! 

What a Savior!  Jesus withstands much abuse (50:6).  Yet, he willingly does so.  Why?  First, because the Lord God vindicates him.  Second, because we need a savior.  We will find as we believe and follow the Savior that God will stand by us as well. 

Holy Spirit, aid us in setting our faces like flint so we may see the goodness of our Savior.  Strengthen our resolve to cling to the Lord God through Jesus the Christ.  As we find the shame of our sin removed through Jesus’ blood, may we have life with Jesus eternally.  In the powerful name of Jesus the Christ, we pray.  Amen.

Love, Peace, Compassion

 Isaiah 54:9-10 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

God keeps his promises.  The rainbow is still seen in the sky as a guarantee of God’s promise to not destroy life on earth by flooding the entire world.  In the days of Isaiah, that same promise was being realized.  Even though God corrected Israel and Judah, he did not wipe them off the face of the planet. 

We have times that we feel God would be justified in destroying us.  We have wronged ourselves and others, and we are confident that we have overthrown any good God has for us.  God will chastise us, for he loves us.  God the Holy Spirit makes sure we know that we have gone against the will of God.  Since we are still here on earth, we realize that we have not done the unpardonable sin.  It is by correcting us that we find God still loves us!

This world may change.  In fact, how we have lived on this planet has changed.  We do not have the same practices of living that we did hundreds of years ago.  The only constant amidst the changes of life is God.  God has steadfast love for us, no matter the style of the day.  God keeps his covenant of peace with us, even when the others of this world (political party, nations, rivals, etc.), have turned against us.  God has compassion for us through the times we feel abandoned, depressed and ready to give up.

Lord God, we sometimes feel that our situations are too much for even you!  Forgive us for confusing your ability with our ability.  Being reassured of your love, peace and compassion gets us through the changes we see in the world around us.  Because we trust you through Jesus Christ, we can live through even these days.  May our family and friends find that they too can trust you.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

A Sermon: “Headed Home”

Here’s a Monday Extra for Methodist Life readers. As some of you are aware, this blog began as part of outreach efforts by the Holston Wesleyan Covenant Association. The link below will take you to the manuscript of a sermon I preached last Saturday during worship, before our Holston chapter’s annual business meeting.

Headed Home”

Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58:1-12

By John Grimm

The spiritual reasons for fasting have been lost on society.  United Methodists are surprised to learn that John Wesley fasted two days a week in his younger days. Later he fasted on Fridays. Charles Yrigoyen Jr., in “John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life,” writes:

Wesley was convinced that fasting, abstaining from food or drink, was a practice firmly grounded in the Bible. People in Old Testament times fasted (Ezra 8:23). So did Jesus and his followers (Matthew 4:2; Acts 13:3), and Wesley saw no reason why modern Christians should not follow the same pattern. His plan of fasting sometimes allowed for limited eating and drinking. He found that fasting advanced holiness.

Being holy, is that a reason to fast? Being holy seems to be a reason to fast. Isaiah 58 helps us get to how we should fast.

Why isn’t fasting working? We are rebelling.  These questions matter: Do we practice righteousness?  Whose interest are we serving? Are we quarreling?

God’s grace allows us to see the harsh reality of our lives. Sin is in our lives. At times, our attitudes are horrendous. It almost sounds like we, like Israel, can be spoiled brats trying to get the attention of our downtrodden parents! There must be more to drawing near to God.

What must change to have grace in our lives? We understand the kind of fast has the Lord chosen.  The fast the Lord has chosen includes justice, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, giving clothes to the naked, and welcoming the stranger (among other tasks).  By doing these works, we work in the grace God has given us.

God’s grace can work through fasting. It is not a diet. Fasting is not an idea for young adults and youth who are worried about their body image, who are leaning toward purging. That is a sign of needing help. If you need to get closer to God, to be more holy, then fasting can be one way that you draw closer to God. That is if you are helping those who need help. Otherwise, we are just spinning our wheels.

It is in the basics of our faith that we gain the means to be closer to God, to become holy as he is. During Lent, we can give up chocolate or sweets. That would be categorized as abstaining. But to give up a meal or two and spend the time in prayer and giving those funds to the needy, that is fasting.

Will you fast this Lent? For those of us with health concerns, talk with your doctor before you fast. For those of us who need to get closer to God, to allow his grace to work in our lives, then let us fast. Just do not let anybody know when you are fasting.

God in Art: Man of Sorrows

“Christ Carrying the Cross,” El Greco, circa 1580.

Having exited the Christmas season, let’s take a few moments to meditate on where the Christian story takes us as we move through winter and into spring. In between his birth and the moment depicted above, Jesus revealed much about God’s plan for humanity, including how the promise of salvation would be fulfilled.

Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

Surely, Surely

Isaiah 12:2 (NRSV)
Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
    he has become my salvation.

By Chuck Griffin

I often default toward using longer texts in these devotions, especially if I can chase meaning in a well-developed Bible story. But sometimes a single verse offers us so much, drawing us into a more meditative place.

The first word is enough to dwell on for a while. “Surely.” Other translations go with “behold,” as if the certainty of the salvation being declared is visibly before the prophet, or another positive affirmation like “indeed.” Did Isaiah have a full vision of Jesus Christ?

How powerfully can I affirm that salvation is mine? Does my conviction rise and fall with my circumstances? Do I stand like an oak or bend like a reed?

How often does fear creep in?

Our faith is strongest, of course, when a being untainted by sin places it in us. The power to do anything, even believe, flows first from God. Faith should never involve a struggle; instead, it is an ongoing surrender.

Take time today to settle into this one verse, and see what it says to you.

Lord, wash over us so our faith never fails. Amen.

For My Welfare?

Isaiah 38:10-20

By John Grimm

For my welfare?  We think we know what is best for ourselves.  We plan, we maneuver, and we make connections so that we can have the best life possible.  Then troubles come our way and we are at a loss.  Getting through the troubles strains us.

We then ask ourselves, is the trouble because of my own sins?  Are we the ones who caused our own souls to be bitter?  Or is the truth that someone else caused our misfortune and our problems?  Is it not that since we live godly lives, we can escape such bitterness?

When we know that we have caused our own bitterness, then we repent of our ways.  We confess our sin to God and he restores us.  We may even eventually see that God had been protecting us, despite our willful rebellion against him.  As soon as we recognize the good God was keeping us for, we thank him that he did not allow us to be punished for all time because of our rebellion. 

When we do not know the source of the bitterness in our life, we should keep turning to God.  It is through Jesus that we find salvation, even in the midst of bitterness.  It is during these times that we catch a glimpse of how much evil that God has kept from us.  Yes, going through the bitterness was for our welfare!

It is by living through bitterness brought on by our own sin or someone else’s sin that we can praise God!  Then we get to be in the sanctuary with other believers to sing and praise God for his work in our lives.  What a witness we have when those around us know of the bitterness of our souls and they get to hear us praise God.  Maybe it is during this pandemic that the bitterness of our souls is for our welfare.  It seems like a good time to praise God for getting us through these days.  What better way to shrug off bitterness than to be in the house of the Lord, thanking God for our deliverance?

God, we know who and what has caused bitterness in our souls.  It was not you.  We allowed that bitterness to grow.  Yet, you are using the state of our souls so that we may see how you are working to deliver us.  As we become content in your faithfulness, may we see the bitterness washing away and hear chords of praise coming from our lungs.  It is in Jesus’ name that we thank you for making a way for our welfare even when we could not grasp what was happening.  Amen.  And Amen!