Friday, January 26, 2024

Grace and Truth, John 18:1-14, Jesus' Strength

When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.

Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.


Luke 22:39-53 gives more details of this scene. Jesus prays, pouring out his anguish to his father, but accepting his father’s will.


By this time, Jesus is able to show his strength, and he confronts those who come out to arrest him. He says he is the one they have come for, so strongly, that they fall back afraid.


He is looking out for his followers, saying that since they’ve come for him, they should let his disciples go free.


Peter was ready to fight, cutting off one of the men’s ears. But Jesus assures Peter he is ready to do what his father has asked him to do. And although it doesn’t say so here, Luke tells us he healed the man’s ear, showing kindness to one of those who came to arrest him.


Jesus, I know you were afraid and brokenhearted, but you stepped forward to do what had to be done, and did so with strength and compassion. Thank you, Lord. 

Friday, January 19, 2024

Bumper Stickers and Signs for Sermons

I found an email this week that I’d written over fifteen years ago. Our church was going through a series of sermons based on signs and bumper stickers.


Today’s sermon was about a church sign that said, "Get saved, or you will go to hell." 


Our preacher said that this is an example of how you can be right and wrong at the same time.  He said that he does

believe that there is a hell, but that he doesn't think using scare tactics is the best way to get people to come to God.  If people have a relationship

built on fear, their inclination will be to try to avoid the one they're afraid of, not try to have a close relationship with him.


He used the story in John 8 about the woman caught in adultery to show that Jesus used grace and mercy rather than fear to save the woman.  He said that Jesus could have stoned her, because He was the only One there Who had no sin, but instead He said that He did not condemn her, and told her to go her way and leave her life of sin. 


Our minister said that probably why there was conflict in the early church as to whether or not to include this story was because there were people in the church who felt, just like the Pharisees, it made Jesus seem soft on sin. And they didn't like that.


But he said he believes it is a true story, and that there are other incidents in the gospels that show Jesus' mercy and grace rather than condemnation to sinners. 


This reminded me of one of my favorite stories of how Jesus dealt with someone others wanted to avoid.


Luke 8:26-35: 

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.


This is a beautiful story to me, that Jesus obviously extended tender care to this man, saw that he was dressed again. And the man wanted to be nowhere but at Jesus’ feet. 

Friday, January 12, 2024

Psalm 118, A Psalm of Joy

For the director of music. Of David the servant of the Lord. He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said:


Verses 1-7:

I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;

    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies.

The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.

The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.

From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.

The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry.


Verses 9-10,13-14,

He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet.

He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind.

The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded.

He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, with great bolts of lightning he routed them.


Verses 16-21,24

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.

He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.

They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support.

He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.

For I have kept the ways of the Lord; I am not guilty of turning from my God.

The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.


Verses 30,35, 43,46

As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.

You make your saving help my shield, and your right hand sustains me; your help has made me great.

You have delivered me from the attacks of the people; you have made me the head of nations. People I did not know now serve me,

The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior!


David wrote a great Psalm of praise after he had been in a horrible place. He trusted that God heard his request for help, and God showed great kindness to him, rescuing him from his enemies, giving him wonderful circumstances.


David said God rewarded him because of his, David’s, righteousness. Many times in other places, David admits his sin and grieves because of it.


Was this before some of his most famous sins? Was he not admitting his sin? Was he simply so secure in God’s love and forgiveness, that he wanted just to praise God for the good in his life?


Lord, I pray to have more of David’s closeness to you, his confidence in your love, and his willingness to share your name with others. 

Friday, January 5, 2024

A Great Wintertime Vacation

I love sitting in my comfortable chair and reading about other people’s traveling. About a month ago, my friend Nina and her husband Dave vacationed in Ecuador. I had such a great time with her detailed descriptions.


We are back and I am slowly getting all the laundry done.  We had a good trip even if they were 12 hour days.  

Things that I learned-


People in Ecuador are so kind and polite.  Just some of the nicest folks I’ve met.


The food in Ecuador is good- the main seasonings are garlic and cilantro.  All the ingredients I recognized but cooked differently.  One morning we had a traditional Ecuadorian breakfast.  Out came scrambled eggs and a baseball sized scoop of cooked mashed plantains that had beans, hominy and pork cracklings mixed in. And cilantro.


Coffee is very good but if it is offered it is served black.  Decaf doesn’t exist.


There are trout farms up in the mountains so there is a lot of grilled or pan fried fish.


Nobody can drink the tap water so any juice or water served is filtered for everyone’s sake.


There is a lot of poverty in the Amazon basin.  That said, people are always neatly dressed and food is abundant, as are chickens.  I saw clotheslines filled with laundry everywhere.


Dogs.  Dogs everywhere.   Dogs in front of houses, in front of shops, at rest stops, along the road.  Sometimes sleeping in the road and people have to drive around them.  Very few cats.  I saw only 4 in 16 days.


The country subsidizes diesel so it is a fraction of the price of regular gas.  More diesel cars there and in the city, it smells like diesel.  Ew.


I was surprised by how cold it can get there.  The cloudy forest areas are wet and chilly like Seattle and the Andes are just plain cold.  The Amazon area is just as hot and sticky as we thought it would be.   And muddy and swampy.


For one birding location boards were thrown down for us to walk across- not to keep our boots dry, just a stable place to walk.  The boards ran out and bamboo poles were set down.  It seemed a joke.  They were muddy and slick and you can guess what happened next.


I fell in.   I rinsed off with buckets of river water but back at the hotel I had to do some serious hand laundry.  The stains weren’t coming out- but then I got the idea to use my electric toothbrush.


I had stupidly rinsed my toothbrush off in tap water a few days before, ruining it.  I had a regular toothbrush as a backup but the electric was just sitting in a ziplock bag.  Some bar soap and buzz buzz buzz, the pants got scrubbed with the electric toothbrush.


Birds are astonishing in the Amazon.  Hummingbirds are wee things but there are some half sized hummingbirds not much bigger than a bumble bee.  Hummingbirds with long bills, longer than their bodies.  Hummingbirds the size of wrens and woodpeckers the size of hummingbirds. 


Our guide Miguel knew the sounds of hundreds and hundreds of birds.  He could play recordings and the birds would respond.


Denver is "the mile high city".  Quito is the two mile high city.  It was easy to get out of breath.  I enjoyed being in the old downtown section of Quito.  The streets are crowded with people and there were hundreds of tiny, specialized stores.


One was selling only cake and candy making supplies.  One was children's dresses.  Another was a miniature warehouse filled with bags of rice.  People walked up and brought smaller bags with them for the man to fill.  An older woman had a stand on the sidewalk where she sold toilet paper.   People selling bags of tomatoes, green peppers or cookies.  A store selling only fleece blankets.  Another one sold yarn and knitting needles.  A backpack store.


I asked if they had Amazon and our guide said, No, but there was a fleet of young men with motorcycles with big storage boxes on the back.  You could call them, place an order and they go shopping for you in town and then deliver the stuff to you.


I saw one woman selling brightly colored whipped cream or was it frosting?  She walked around with her big container, a scoop and wafer ice cream cones.   People were buying cones full of the fluffy stuff.