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.

Too Much to Comprehend

By Chuck Griffin

Today’s psalter reading is Psalm 104:24-35b. Every now and then, it is good to stop and meditate on the greatness of God, a spiritual exercise that should be humbling, if nothing else.

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made!
    In wisdom you have made them all.
    The earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the ocean, vast and wide,
    teeming with life of every kind,
    both large and small.
See the ships sailing along,
    and Leviathan, which you made to play in the sea.

Our increased ability to study creation deep beneath the sea and across vast expanses of sky should leave us not smugly astonished at our own abilities, but instead even more dumbfounded by what God has wrought. The more we see, the more we grow puzzled, with an always deepening set of mysteries before us.

The ocean in places remains unfathomably deep, and if the human mind were for a second to truly comprehend the vastness of the universe, it might not survive the experience. The scale of it all is far beyond what we can grasp with our senses, and yet, we know it is all within the grasp of God.

They all depend on you
    to give them food as they need it.
When you supply it, they gather it.
    You open your hand to feed them,
    and they are richly satisfied.
But if you turn away from them, they panic.
    When you take away their breath,
    they die and turn again to dust.
When you give them your breath, life is created,
    and you renew the face of the earth.

What’s truly remarkable is that a God so great would care for the minuscule components of what He has created. We are told that He takes note of every sparrow that falls. We begin to at least glimpse the power of an eternal being, one who can take as long as He wants to contemplate every conscious experience made possible by the creative act.

And in having made us, God loves us, so much so that He granted us freedom to choose and then rescued us when we did not choose well.

May the glory of the Lord continue forever!
    The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!
The earth trembles at his glance;
    the mountains smoke at his touch.

The relationship between creation and Creator brings joy to all involved! Of course, the created, properly understanding our place, also must carry within a deep sense of humility, the first step toward proper worship of the one who has made all things.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
    I will praise my God to my last breath!
May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
    for I rejoice in the Lord.

True worship fully incorporates body and mind, requiring the assistance of the one who is worshiped. We cannot achieve such worship on our own. Remember this as we move toward Pentecost Sunday; the Creator’s Spirit must be within us and among us if we are to worship Him well.

Lord, grant us what we need so that our worship of you may be full and complete. Amen.

By the River Chebar

Ezekiel 3:12-21 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

The Holy Spirit will do as the Holy Spirit does.  We cannot control what the Spirit of God does.  Ezekiel learned this truth!  What a situation he was in!  We cannot imagine the transportation used to move Ezekiel to be by the river Chebar, in Assyria.

After those seven days of sitting stunned upon landing by the river Chebar, Ezekiel received a word from God.  It is at this point that we become stunned.  The word of the Lord that came to Ezekiel is powerful.  It is given clearly for Ezekiel.  We ask ourselves, is it spoken clearly for us?

Are we truly our brother’s keeper?  Are we responsible for anyone else?  Do we really want to become involved in someone else’s life?  These are questions we ask ourselves as we see how Ezekiel is to be a sentinel for Israel.  If he warns them, then the people and Ezekiel will be able to live on.  If Ezekiel does not warn them when he sees their iniquities, then the people will die, and their blood will be on Ezekiel’s hands. 

As disciples of Jesus Christ, will we be judged like Ezekiel?  If we fail to correctly give the word of the Lord to the people regarding their iniquities, will their blood be on our hands?  If we do correctly give the word of the Lord to the people regarding their iniquities, then will our life be saved?  Our salvation is tied to the salvation of others.  We may not be prophets or by the river Chebar, but we are able to speak the word the Lord gives us.

Lord, your Spirit moves us today in ways we do not expect.  When your Spirit moves us to speak your word, then may the people hear and turn to you.  Thank you for helping us to see how serious our obedience to you is.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we ask for you to give us words to speak that will warn people to turn to you.  Amen.

God in Art: The Spirit Descends

Pentecost is this coming Sunday, June 5. The story of Pentecost is found in Acts 2. We at Methodist Life encourage everyone to begin meditating this week on the role of the Holy Spirit in our personal lives and in the lives of our churches. In terms of importance, this Sunday ranks right up there with Easter. After all, it is through the Holy Spirit that we experience God directly in the time we now live. How will you honor that great truth this Sunday?

Mosaic depiction of Pentecost, photographed in a basilica in Trier, Germany. Image by Holger Schué via Pixabay.

Blessed Is the One

Revelation 22:6-9 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

The angels and humans have one thing in common in this part of John’s vision.  We are slaves.  What a commonality!  For we serve God in our respective capacities.  The difference between angels and humans is how we can be faithful.

The angels were faithful in delivering the vision to John, and to all who read Revelation.  We humans get to be faithful in keeping the words of this prophecy.  We do not worship angels.  We worship God, who is faithful to both the angels and to humans. 

What then are we to do?  We are to keep the words of this book!

When we do keep the words of this book, then we will know how much and for how long we can worship God.  We get to be faithful until Jesus Christ returns.  We are slaves to Jesus through the word that angel revealed to John.  We, therefore, serve with the angels in the worship of God.  If we get nothing else from Revelation, then we deliberately find reason to worship God.  That is the word for us.  Worship God.

God, we worship you.  You are faithful to us.  We are finding encouragement to remain faithful to you.  It is a blessing for us already to know we serve you.  It is with our life that we worship you.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

The Counter to Evil

We know that we are God’s children and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one.—1 John 5:19.

By Chuck Griffin

Another terrible mass murder has occurred, this time at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The horror of it all is difficult to shake off, and we certainly should not be quick to discard such feelings.

We become numb to these events, I think, because there seems to be nothing immediate we can do beyond praying for these devastated families and communities. Let’s remember that prayer is real and effective, despite what the vulgar Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona has to say about Christians who offered prayers. (Even in a fit of anger, people need to avoid blasphemy.) If anything, more and deeper prayer is needed in the face of such terrible evil.

And yes, we need prayer-guided action, too—effective action. Politicians and pundits are quick to pull out rehearsed talking points, many of them rooted in a humanist view that somehow, with the right restrictions in place, we can all be made good enough to stop killing each other.

I have yet to see a plan that has stopped such violence in the past or would stop it in the future. The day after this shooting, I read a story about the deadliest school massacre in U.S. history. It occurred May 18, 1927, in East Lansing, Mich., killing 45 people, 38 of them children. A local farmer angry about taxes carried out the plot using dynamite.

We can keep going back through history to find such horrible events. Don’t forget that in an attempt to stop the Christ child from growing to manhood, Herod sent his soldiers to slaughter infants, a massacre in the midst of one of our favorite stories of joy and hope.

Caught up in the world, Christians sometimes forget to root their response in an important part of our basic, very ancient worldview. There is evil, terrible evil, in the world, and we are called to short-circuit its work by fulfilling the mission Christ gave us. We work alongside God to convert broken people, bringing them into lives filled with peace and hope.

Somehow, we missed that young man who became a killer in Texas, and others like him. I don’t know his history; maybe our increasingly secular culture walled him off from the gospel message, or maybe many Christians tried to reach him. But at times like this, reality hits us square in the face. Whenever we miss someone, for whatever reason, evil takes root, just as it tried to take root in each of us before we genuinely found Jesus Christ.

Christians, it’s safe to say that evil will persist until Christ returns, but do you want to keep at least some of these events from happening? First consider who is in your circle of influence, and then do all you can to reach those who seem to be drifting toward evil. See their pain; see their needs and try to show them God’s love flowing through you.

More than anything else, these efforts require time, something so few are willing to give these days. If nothing else, let the Uvalde massacre and events like it be a call for us to evaluate how we spend our time as people who claim to follow Christ.

Dear Lord, we so look forward to the day when evil is cast aside as this world is remade. In the meantime, help us to bring your dawning kingdom’s light to the dark places we encounter. Amen.

Guided

Luke 2:25-35 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

Serving God is unique.  We will not know exactly what we are to do in every situation.  We will not know how long we will have to wait to see what God has promised.  We only know that we are serving God.  When we arrive where God wants us to be for someone else, we will know it.

As a member of the clergy, I have noticed this truth.  There have been countless times that I have contacted a disciple and that disciple says to me: “How did you know I needed…?”  Whether it has been a prayer, my presence, or even a phone call, God has allowed me to be part of an unknown that blessed others.

Simeon waited for the consolation of Israel.  We do not know how long he waited.  We only know that he would see what God promised him before he died.  Then, Simeon praised God.  His words amazed Joseph and Mary.

The truth is that the consolation of Israel is for the glory of Israel and a light of revelation to the Gentiles.  We may not ever be in the situation Simeon was.  However, being there with a prayer, our presence or even a phone call for another person can be exactly how God wants us to serve Him.

Jesus, thank you for being all that you are.  As we serve you and the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit, may we see what you promise us.  Give us the words as we pray for other people.  Give us the wherewithal to be present when someone needs us.  Give us the timing that allows us to dial a number for us to speak what you desire for us to speak.  Amen.

The True Temple

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.—Revelation 21:22.

By Chuck Griffin

This single verse is part of a much longer passage near the end of the Bible regarding the New Jerusalem, the holy city that is part of the remade heaven and earth. We see the fulfillment of God’s desire to reunite with humanity.

I want to focus on this one verse because it reminds us of worship in its purest form, a kind of worship that is possible now, even before the events that will close the era of broken creation and begin eternal life with God for the redeemed. It is a form of worship many Christians have experienced at least briefly, and it has a kind of power in it that can sustain us for a lifetime.

I am talking of worship that is not dependent on a particular time or place. It may happen as part of a scheduled event, inside a building made for the purpose, but if any of those elements are present, they are merely conduits for the real experience.

Those of you who have had this experience instinctively know what I’m talking about. Place and time seem to dissolve, and what remains before us is God, certainly felt and for a very blessed few even seen. We better understand what it means to describe Christianity as “mystical.”

While the conduits—the steeples, the sanctuaries, the altars, the pulpits, the stained glass, the paraments, the instruments and more—can be very helpful, there also is a danger in their use. We can become dependent on them, even in love with them, in the process forgetting about who it is we actually pursue in worship.

Few Christians would walk away from the buildings they often call “the church.” And often, there is good reason. I call it the “holy ground” problem. So much has happened in the space. Baptisms, weddings and funerals, all with their associated memories, are just the obvious events.

The solution, I think, is to be careful about how we walk toward worship. Have we arrived to visit a place or a memory, or are we moving expectantly into an encounter with God?

The right mindset can help us worship God in full now.

Dear Lord, give us deeper and even unexpected encounters with you in worship. Amen.

Are We?

Proverbs 2:6-8 (NRSV)

By John Grimm

The Lord gives wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.  These gifts are for the upright, those who walk blamelessly, his faithful ones.  Are we upright, walking blamelessly and faithfully?

We know we need wisdom, knowledge and understanding.  In the days ahead for the people called Methodist, we get to reach into God’s stores for these gifts.  In the days behind us, we might not have used these gifts exclusively.  It is possible to admit that we were not upright, blameless or faithful.  Our past performance does not have to dictate our future production, though.

God is guiding us through these days.  We rely on him for wisdom, knowledge and understanding.  Because God’s ways are higher than our ways, the wisdom, knowledge and understanding that we use will confound those who oppose his faithful ones.  Our desire is to be upright in how we speak with the other.  Our desire is to be blameless in interacting with the other.  Our desire is to be faithful when we see that others are not being faithful to God.

It is our hearts and our souls that benefit from God’s gifts.  In living as upright, blameless, faithful ones, we will have pleasant motives such that the other will not be considered other to us.  We will want all to pursue God’s gifts.  Yet, we recognize that not all will.  Still, we can be upright, blameless and faithful ones as we live in this world.

God, thank you for your wisdom, knowledge and understanding.  Forgive us for not drawing upon them in the past.  Renew us as we go to your stores for these much-needed gifts.  May our paths be straight as we move through these turbulent days of the United Methodist Church.  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.