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Month: August 2016

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 16, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 16, 2016

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God* that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Much of the book of Deuteronomy can be summed up with the ideas of obedience begets blessing while disobedience brings about suffering and rejection.

“…life and prosperity, death and adversity.” The Jewish Study Bible comments, “If ‘life’ meant only biological life, there would be no choice. The choice is rather between life in the covenant and life not in the covenant. From this viewpoint, biological existence, and even prosperity, if not in the covenant, constitutes death.”

In covenant documents such as this, “love” does not mean an emotion, but rather loyalty and fealty to the covenant and the person (Yahweh) with whom the covenant is made.

“…I declare to you that day you shall parish…” – These verses of doom can certainly be read as punishments that God would mete out on those who abandon God’s ways. They could also be read a fair warning of the negative consequences of one’s betrayal of God’s love. Death happens not because God punishes those who break the covenant by killing them, but rather, true life is only possible in covenant relationship with God.

Psalm 1

1 Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

This first psalm in the psalter introduces the book perfectly. The faithful and unfaithful are defined. Blessings and curses are defined. Life of the faithful is portrayedwith the image of the tree, following the image of Israel as God’s fig tree found throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

Note in verse 2, “the law of the Lord” is English for Torah and specifically means Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Philemon 1-21

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,*

To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2to Apphia our sister,* to Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in your house:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 When I remember you* in my prayers, I always thank my God 5because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith towards the Lord Jesus. 6I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we* may do for Christ. 7I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.* 10I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful* both to you and to me. 12I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.15Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for ever, 16no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self.20Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

This is the shortest book in the Bible, a single letter written by the apostle, Paul, in his own hand, that is, without dictation, to Philemon. Philemon has a church that meets in his home. Like many in that day and age, Philemon had slaves, at least one of whom ended up with Paul.

Paul was imprisoned for “disturbing the peace” when preaching about Jesus in Antioch and upsetting the silver smiths. Those smiths made their livings selling statuettes of the goddess Artimis, whose chief temple was in Antioch. Paul preached that all gods and goddesses were false and a waste of time except God: father, son, and Holy Spirit. Statuette sales were threatened and the silver smiths rioted and Paul was thrown in jail. Since Paul was a Roman citizen, he appealed to higher courts and was held both under house arrest and in palace prisons for the remainder of his life. It is from prison that he wrote most of his letters to churches.

Somehow, while imprisoned, Onesimus, slave of Philemon, comes to Paul and tends to him while in prison/house arrest. Paul develops fatherly affection for Onesimus and decides to write Philemon a letter on Onesimus’ behalf. The letter is one of both persuasion and coercion seemingly to obtain freedom and dignity for Onesimus.

Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

How difficult it is for us to understand why Jesus, who is love, would tell his disciples that they must hate their immediate families in order to follow him. How could Jesus possibly instruct us to hate anyone?!

Context and the culture of the day are very important when understanding this text. Jesus has been dining with Pharisees who have completely disrespected him. His response to them was to teach them about the Kingdom of Heaven, where the humble are exalted and the exalted are humbled.

The above text is part of this teaching and should be understood in that context. Jesus is teaching that those things or relationships which afford us status or honor are to be set aside in order to humble ourselves before Jesus, our savior. When we cling to family name, parents’ reputation, inheritance or fortune for our success in life, then we cannot humbles ourselves before Christ.

Jesus further explains this with the examples of the king with his army and the one who builds a tower. In both cases, Jesus is teaching about evaluating one’s assets before beginning something new. In that same way, Jesus teaches that as we evaluate our assets, they are worthless in the face of Jesus. Instead of clinging to them, we are to recognize them for what they are, not means of salvation, but gifts from God to be used for service to others.

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 15, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 15, 2016

Proverbs 25:6-7

Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence
or stand in the place of nobles;
for it is better to be told, “Come up here,”
than to be degraded in the presence of the great.

The book of Proverbs is intended as the “Emily Post’s guide to the prim, proper, and pious Jewish life around 900 BC.” This passage reflects the social structure of humility. One should never toot one’s own horn or suggest one’s self for promotion, especially religious or governmental situations. One should wait for others to notice one’s acumen and accomplishments and speak on one’s behalf. This is obviously not the culture of self-assessment and self-promotion.

Psalm 112

Praise the Lord! Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.

Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.

Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.

They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.

It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice.

For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.

They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.

Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.

They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.

The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.

Here is a great example of a strong strain of thought that runs through the Bible: those who obey God have all kinds of good things happen for them such as wealth, lots of kids, good reputation, etc. And, of course, those who are not so faithful to the Jewish religion, here referred to as “the wicked” are in trouble. Of course, this is not the only strain in the Bible.

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament there is the strain that says: rain falls on the crops of the good and the bad. At some point in the future God will separate wheat from chaff or sheep from goats.

Note also in this passage how the righteous are described: well founded, not afraid, secure, sharing freely. One might also describe these attributes as “fruits of the spirit” as describe in the apostle Paul’s writings.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

This passage begins with the phrase “mutual love”. The remainder of the passage can be understood as the author’s descriptors of “mutual love”.

Mutual love is hospitable to all, even strangers. This word, “strangers”, can be understood to mean all who are not of the same Christian/Jewish community as you. In other words, “stranger” is everyone outside your family and church. The audience to whom the book of Hebrews was written lived in a very diverse culture, with Romans and people of all lands who traded with Rome or whom Rome conquered. This community was not to exclude anyone, whether different religion or language or dress or skin color or political thought. All were to be entertained as if messengers of God, angels.

Mutual love views all with compassion and genuine empathy, even those who are in prison and guilty, those who are being tortured because they have information necessary for the government to protect its people.

Mutual love is guided by gratitude: to God for what God has given, to others for what they share, to self for who you are and what you are striving to do for others.

Mutual love, when shared in marriage, is faithfulness to the spouse which rejects all others, whether fantasy or reality, as love making partners.

Mutual love does not use money as a score care for success, or a means of overlording, but merely a tool for showing love and mercy.

Luke 14:1, 7-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

In this passage, Jesus puts his finger on the pulse of social interaction in his culture, and ours, and finds it lacking. What remedy does Jesus suggest? Social discourse which sets everyone’s teeth on edge. The context of this lesson given by Jesus is that Jesus is invited to a Pharisee’s house for the equivalent of Sunday Afternoon Dinner, but not as a guest as much as entertainment. So here is Jesus, God in the flesh, being seated at the kids’ table and pummeled with questions meant to stump for amusement.

First, Jesus teaches humility, even when eating dinner at a friend’s house. Certainly, when we eat at a friend’s, we ask, “Which seat at the table do you want me to take?” but how often have we been out to lunch or dinner for work, or at a wedding reception, and felt slighted, disrespected, even humiliated by our hosts? Jesus is suggesting to ignore what others do to you and focus the posture you adopt in social situations. “How highly do you rate yourself?” Jesus asks.

Second, Jesus teaches generosity which will never be repaid. The practical issues are not address: how do you find blind or poor or lame people who want to come to your house to dine? How do you get them to your house? What happens if they reject your invitation? The point is that generosity is not generosity when repayment is expected.

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 13, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 13, 2016

Jeremiah 23:23-29

Am I a God nearby, says the Lord, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” How long?! Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the Lord. Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

Jeremiah is a prophet who speaks to the Southern Kingdom, that is, the Israelites who lived in Jerusalem and the part of Canaan given to the tribe of Judah. By the time of Jeremiah, the Northern Kingdom already fell to Assyria. Then Babylonia conquered Assyria and came after Jerusalem and Judah, in order to control trade routes to Egypt and Africa.

As Babylonia was mounting a war against Jerusalem and Judah, Jeremiah found himself to be the only true prophet to the Israelites. The other prophets and the priests, scribes, and Temple officials, all said, “God will save us from Babylonia. Go about your business.” The problem is, the business to which most Israelites will go is devoid of God/Yahweh. The kings and high priests have actually set up alters to foreign gods in THE TEMPLE in Jerusalem. The hills in Judah are topped with little alters to Baal and his concubine, Ashera/Astartes. Every big tree has a little shrine under it to the nature gods. Jeremiah alone prophesies the actual words of God, some of which are found in the above passage.

Psalm 82

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:

“How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah

Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.

Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you;

nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince.”

Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for all the nations belong to you!

The first of the Ten Commandments is, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, you shall have no other gods but me (or “before me”).” The ancient Israelites believed there to be many gods and goddesses, but they understood God/Yahweh to command them to worship, love, and serve only Him. The above psalm reflects this belief as it depicts God holding a council meeting with the minor deities and lambasting them for judging prejudicially against the poor, weak, and needy. As punishment, God takes away their immortality.

Ancient tradition taught that each nation had a minor god or goddess assigned to it from this heavenly council. The last line of this psalm refers to this belief. The psalmist calls on God to judge these minor deities, stating that they in fact belong to God.

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Continuing on last week’s theme of faith, this text gives lots of faithful people, both biblical and post biblical. (There is no one who was sawed in half in the Bible but that was a torture used by the Romans at and after the time of Jesus.)

“All these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, …” God promised one who was to come would restore the Kingdom of God, and Jesus, that one, promised eternal life. All of these faithful people had faith in this promise, but did not see it realized.

The writer of Hebrews teaches in this, and other passages, that those who believed the promise God made to them about one who was to come, and those who believe in Jesus, are all caught up together and will receive the “better resurrection,” that is, eternal life. Note how the author does not make a distinction between ancient Jews who did not actually believe in Jesus or even Jews during the time of Jesus or after who did not know of Jesus, and those people who actually know of and believe in Jesus. In the author’s understanding, all of these are faithful to the promise made by God which is fulfilled in Jesus.

Luke 12:49-56

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

For the past three weeks we have been hearing texts from the 12th chapter of Luke. None of them have been easy texts. First Jesus severely criticizes the Pharisees for their showy piety which Jesus deems lacking any real relationship with God. Then a man asks Jesus to be the arbitrator between he and his brother over their inheritance which Jesus answers with the parable of the Rich Fool. “Sell your possessions, give alms.”

Jesus is directly criticizing retirement accounts and family trusts, praying in public and dressing up for church. “What?!” we ask. “What?!” the disciples and the crowds ask. These were as difficult a teaching for Jesus’ original audience as they are for us. What happened to nice, kind, meek, humble, healing Jesus?

Jesus answers that exact question in the above paragraph. Jesus says, “If you think I came to preach Chicken Soup for the Soul and Everything I Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten, you’ve got another thing coming! I came to change the world, if necessary one person at a time!!!!”

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 12, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 12, 2016

Genesis 15:1-6

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ 2But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’*3And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ 4But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ 5He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord * reckoned it to him as righteousness.

In past writings, I have introduced the idea that the first five books of the Bible, (aka Pentateuch) were oral tradition for hundreds of years, before they were written down. Different clans living in different parts of Israel know different versions of the creation story, the flood story, the stories of Abraham and Sarah, slavery in Egypt and escape into the wilderness, etc. Scholars think those stories weren’t brought together until the Israelites were defeated by Babylonia and all the educated class were held captive in Babylon. Whether then, or at another time, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures were made by splicing all of these different oral traditions into one narrative. This theory (aka JEPD) explains why there are two different creation stories, Genesis 1 – 2:4 and Genesis 2:4-6:8. This also explains the confusion in the above passage regarding Abram.

In Genesis 12, God promises to give Abram land, an heir, and the honor of being a blessing to all people. Then in Genesis 13:14 and following, God grants to Abram all the land his eyes can see, and promises that Abram will have progeny outnumbering the grains of dust on the earth. Yet, here it is as if Abram has no knowledge or recollection of God’s promise. If, indeed, this story of Abraham and Sarah is a splicing of several versions, then discrepancies make sense.

Continuing last week’s theme of material possessions having no eternal value, Abram questions what kind of reward God might give since Abram has no son who would inherit God’s gift. The answer is one of many incarnations of God’s promise of an actual heir out of Abram and Sarah together. What makes this version of the story different is “and he believed the Lord and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” “Righteousness” means “in right relationship with God”, what Catholics would call the “state of Grace.” All was right between God and Abram, despite Abram’s earlier seeming doubt of God’s promises, because Abram now trusted God and God let that trust be enough. While this phrase certainly has meaning for Jews, through the interpretations of certain writings of St. Paul and the book of Hebrews, this verse is believed by some Christians to be the loophole through which Jews are saved in heaven. More on this below.

Psalm 33:12-22

Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.

13 The Lord looks down from heaven;
he sees all humankind.
14 From where he sits enthroned he watches
all the inhabitants of the earth—
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all,
and observes all their deeds.
16 A king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a vain hope for victory,
and by its great might it cannot save.

18 Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 to deliver their soul from death,
and to keep them alive in famine.

20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and shield.

The first verse of this passage sums up well the understanding that the offspring of Abraham have of their relationship with God. God’s reward to Abraham was offspring through whom God would bless all the peoples of the world.

Verses 13 through 15 convey a mythological understand of God, sitting like Zeus or Apollo, observing all the antics of the little humans below on earth, much more Santa Claus like than the way Jesus describes God, especially in John 14-17.

“Those who fear him” – For Jews and Christians alike, to be in relationship with God is to love and trust a being that is so far beyond humanity that humans truly cannot understand or comprehend God. The fear aspect of this relationship is akin to standing at the very edge of the Grand Canyon. Beauty, grandeur, wonder, combined with the catastrophe of going over the edge.

Soul – Greek pseuche which means life force and breath, Hebrew nefesh which means everything that you are. Combine the two for the English meaning of soul: every breath you take, every moment of your life, every memory, every aspiration and hope, every grief, everything that is YOU.

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith* our ancestors received approval.3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.*

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised.* 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’

13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

The writer of Hebrews is making the point that faith in God is what makes us right with God. The writer makes it clear that faith in God does not mean that God’s promises will come to pass in our lifetime, but instead that the faithful believe in God and in God’s promises regardless of when they come to pass.

Some Christians understand this passage, combined with the passage from Genesis above, to mean that Jews had faith in the promise God made to Abram/Abraham and therefore had faith in Jesus and are therefore going to heaven because they believed in Jesus by trusting in God’s promise. St. Paul believed that God saves the Jews because God promised God would many throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament), and not because of what the Jews believe or don’t believe about the messiah.

However God grants eternal life to Jews, or anyone is God’s prerogative. As Christians, we believe that salvation comes by Grace through faith, completely separate from good, God pleasing, things we do or neglect to do. Christians believe that being saved is only accomplished by having faith in Jesus as the savior. We also believe that faith is freely given by the Holy Spirit, as gift. The challenge for us, as Christians, is to have faith, trust, in God in all things. That is also part the fear of God, like standing on the very edge of the Grand Canyon. Will this cliff’s edge stay firm, even when life feels like an earthquake?

Luke 12:32-40

‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35 ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

39 ‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he* would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’

After last week’s parable about the “Rich Fool” who amasses lots and lots and lots of crops to feed himself for the rest of his life and then dies the day his new, bigger silos are complete, Jesus goes on to teach about where your faith should lie.

“It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” – Jesus declares that we are heirs to the Kingdom of God, so we don’t need to worry. Our collections of nicknacks, items with sentimental value, and investments cannot be our focal points. Rather, we are to invest in the Kingdom of God, through love, service, acts of forgiveness and peace.

Jesus goes on to talk about being ready to inherit the Kingdom. The image Jesus creates in this passage is that being in the Kingdom of God is like being a faithful slave. We are prepared, doing the tasks given to us whether God is looking over our shoulder or not. In this way, we are always “alert when he comes.” The amazing part of Jesus’ analogy is that if the slaves are prepared for the master’s return, “he [the
master] will fasten his belt and have them [the slaves] sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them”!!!!! God will serve us! In fact, that is exactly what Jesus does over and over and over, even after Easter, making breakfast on the beach for the disciples.