Today is St. Patrick’s Day – because of COVID-19 – the usual revelry will be at a minimum. Perhaps the best thing we could do today is remember this prayer attributed to St. Patrick.
This is a shortened version that is in our hymnal
I arise today through God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear for me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me.
Christ be with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’ 31 I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32 Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. 33 I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.”
35 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. 36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” 37 When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.
38 Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them.
They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
39 “Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. 41 Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”).
42 Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”).
John 1:29-42 New Living Translation (NLT)
Last week was The Baptism of our Lord. We looked at the scripture from the gospel of Matthew. This week’s scripture is the next day from John’s gospel. John, as usual, gives us a little different perspective than the synoptic (meaning “seeing together) gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John doesn’t describe the baptism directly, but through John the Baptist’s testimony we understand that he has recently baptized Jesus.
Last week I asked the question, “Why did Jesus need to be baptized?” John wanted to know and Jesus told them it was required because that’s what God required. John baptizes Jesus – and like the other accounts we know that Holy Spirit descends like a dove. John relays to the crowd that God the Father told him that “The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” John the Baptist now knows that Jesus is the Messiah – the Chosen One – the One written in the prophets. It is this Messiah that will save the people from their sins – it is this Messiah that is the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world.
John knows that his part in the gospel story is coming to a close. He is the forerunner to Jesus – he is the one who is designated to prepare the way for Jesus. He has been doing this and now reveals to the Jewish people that Jesus is the fulfillment of their prophecies.
The next day after the above day, John is standing with his disciples – perhaps they weren’t there the day before – but again he declares as Jesus approaches…”Look! There is the Lamb of God.” They immediately leave John the Baptist and go to follow Jesus. They are the first of the disciples. Did you ever think about how John the Baptist felt – losing his own disciples to another teacher? Apparently word spread quickly that Jesus was the promised Messiah – but they also recognized Him as a teacher – for they called him Rabbi. Two days after his baptism and Jesus has already started developing a following.
I find it interesting in all this that John the Baptist revealed to those around him that Jesus was the Messiah. He had been preparing the way for Jesus. He knew that he was simply the forerunner – the message bearer that the true light was coming into the world. Once he declares Jesus as the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, John the Baptist fades from the limelight.
John the Baptist did a great job in testifying to the light. That is what we are supposed to do. We are now solidly in the season of Epiphany. This season’s theme is to follow the mission of Jesus. We learn that Jesus speaks much of building the Kingdom of God. John the Baptist knew that for Jesus to get the glory – to give glory to the Father in heaven, that he must decrease.
This conversation happens in chapter 3. Both John the Baptist and Jesus are baptizing and John’s disciples are upset because more people are going to Jesus. John knows his place – that he is simply preparing the way – that he is not the Messiah. John is not jealous of Jesus’ success – something that can’t be said of the Pharisees. John replies to his disciples:
He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.
And that’s how it should be with us. We are not the Messiah – even though there are times we get a Messiah complex. We are called to prepare the way for Jesus – make the highway straight – to call people to repentance – to call people toward God’s salvation – to call people toward Jesus – and then get out of the way. God calls us to be humble. I was going to say like Jesus, but in this case…we can learn something from John the Baptist. He must increase. I must decrease. Amen!
31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
Matthew 25:31-46 New Living Translation (NLT)
Happy 2020! Wait! What? We blinked and twenty years have passed. Perhaps that’s what makes this morning’s devotional so poignant – especially when we welcomed 2020 in with such revelry. Toward the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gives us a lengthy discourse about how it will all end. Jesus gives warnings to the people to keep watch – to be ready. As we enter 2020 perhaps we should take time – to take inventory to see if we are watching as we should, to see if we are ready like we should be. In Matthew 25, we first get the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids. Five who were wise and five who were foolish. The wise were ready for the coming of the bride and the foolish weren’t.
Then there is the Parable of the Three Servants. In this story the master gives the servants silver to take care of – to be stewards of – to invest. Two of the servants are wise stewards and the third just buries his silver in the ground. We learn the importance of being good stewards of what God has entrusted with us.
Finally, Jesus tells us of the Last Judgment in something we know as the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Again it’s a story of being ready – it’s a story of being a good steward. I really believe when Jesus was teaching – he was speaking to those who thought themselves religious – those who were following all the religious rules. Jesus reminds us once again of the importance of taking care of the least of these. Jesus is reminding us of the importance of begin good stewards of what he has entrusted to us – that is the Kingdom of God. The righteous ones were shocked to hear that they had taken care of Jesus by taking care of others. By saying this, some would say that I am advocating for works righteousness. That would be a long way from the truth.
In Jesus’ own words, we learn the greatest commandments:
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Jesus told us we must love God with everything we have and at the same time we must take care of our neighbor. You may remember that there was one who wanted to rationalize his behavior and he asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” To which Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus’ command is echoed in these words penned by James:
27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
It’s not love God or love my neighbor. It’s love God AND my neighbor. Jesus said that our neighbor is everyone.
I know that was a long tangent, but it really shows how this Parable of the Sheep and Goats fits into the greater narrative of the Bible. Jesus places great importance in loving God with all of our heart, mind, and strength and obeying his commandments, but if we keep that love to ourselves, it means nothing. This also means, we don’t just take care of those we deem are worthy, but the least of these.
In this parable, the cursed ones loved God, but they didn’t take care of their neighbor – they made judgments. They asked, “Why should we take care of the sick? – Why should we take care of the hungry? – Why should we take care of the alien? – Why should we take care of those in prison? Why should we take care of those who are naked? Jesus replies that if you don’t do it for them, you’ve not done it to me. Wow! Those words hurt. Am I doing everything possible to help the least of these? Are you doing everything possible to help the least of these? Too many times we make excuses. Too many times we make it political.
So while we revel in the arrival of a new year – the year 2020 – Let’s remember to be about the Father’s business – Let’s be about building the Kingdom of God – not our own little fiefdoms, but God’s Kingdom. The time is short. We need to keep watch – we need to be ready – and yet we need to keep building!
It’s the second Sunday night of November and we sit between snowstorms. Thursday we had quite the early November weather event. It wasn’t terrible, just an inch or so, but tomorrow afternoon’s event looks to be shaping up to be a little more – 3 to 6 inches. That’s quite a bit of snow for this early in the season. Then Tuesday some cold air will be moving in for a couple of days but should release by the weekend.
This has been a bit of an odd weekend – many of the schools had off on Friday, but some have off on Monday, but because I drive for two different school districts, I am driving both Friday and tomorrow.
As I wrote last night, I am still struggling with my running – finding the time is the biggest challenge. Hopefully this will be a more normal week.
We had a good week last week and a good worship service this morning. The Holy Spirit’s leading was evident. I preached on the church and what that means, unfortunately, our camera ran out of memory and so, after I finish this, I will record the sermon, minus the interaction from the congregation.
We did have a great prayer time with our local pastors on Monday. I really appreciate the local clergy in Eldred – we are really about building the Kingdom. On Wednesday we had our regular meeting and we really believe God is up to something in our little community.