The Hour of Greatest Need

Luke 23.55-56
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

The one on whom they had hung all their hope lay lifeless in a grave cut out of stone on the side of a hill. It was customary to embalm everyone who passed away, how much more for him whose hands brought sight to the blind, health to the ill, and life to sinners.

This was a terrible time to take the day off.

And yet, as the sun fell behind the western wall of the temple, the women stopped and prepared to rest for the sabbath.

Modern research shows taking a day off helps refuel mental resources drained by the pressures of work. No doubt the God who makes both body and sabbath also crafts them to work together. But sabbath also transcends this relationship.

“The Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of [man’s] work,” observes rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book The Sabbath. Heschel argues for an experience of sabbath that reunites man with God, rather than deepening him in self-centeredness:

“He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life.

Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else. Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.” 

The grace of resurrection cannot be wrought by the hands of man. When the women return to the tomb after the sabbath they become the first to experience the invitation to rest because Christ labored on their behalf.

Our hour of greatest need, when we find ourselves most helpless, is the best time to rest.

Prayer
Lord we confess that we forget to see sabbath as a gift and reminder of your work and sacrifice. Thank you for inviting us into the miracle of your resurrection. Thank you for the life we find in your grace.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 20 (Listen – 3:21)
Luke 23 (Listen – 6:39)

Hope in the Darkness
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Kindness is Key

Luke 20.17b
[Jesus said,] “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

Psychologist John Gottman “can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples … will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later.” What’s the key? Kindness, he says. 

“There’s a habit of mind that [the together and happy] have, which is this: they are scanning the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. [The broken up, the together and unhappy] are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

In the parable of the tenants, a man leases his vineyard to tenants and then goes abroad. When the harvest arrives, he sends his servants one-by-one to collect fruit from the tenants. But the laborers do not welcome the servants — they beat some and kill others. 

Jesus concludes, “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ 

“But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”

In the face of their contempt, the landowner is kind. This is kindness — that God bore with great patience the rejection of his people, sending prophet-by-prophet until finally he sent his Son. 

“Could God, would God, overcome his cherishing, admiring, treasuring, white-hot, affectionate bond with his Son and deliver him over to be lied about and betrayed and abandoned and mocked and flogged and beaten and spit on and nailed to a cross and pierced with a sword like an animal being butchered?” John Piper asks. “If he would, then whatever goal he is pursuing could never be stopped.”

Prayer
Lord, your habit of mind is to scan our hearts for Christ. Yet we confess that we often show contempt for your kindness and forbearance, not knowing that your kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. For on the cross we see that we are so sinful that Christ had to die and so loved that he chose to die. Forgive us for presuming on the riches of your kindness, and empower us to be kind to others. Amen.

Images of Faith
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 17 (Listen – 2:30)
Luke 20 (Listen – 5:07)

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This Weekend’s Readings

Saturday: Exodus 18 (Listen – 3:54); Luke 21 (Listen – 4:18)
Sunday: Exodus 19 (Listen – 4:04); Luke 22 (Listen – 7:58)

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TBT: A Faith for Others

Luke 19.16-17, 20, 24
[Jesus said,] The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’

“Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.” …

Then another servant came and said, “Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 

Then the master said to those standing by, “Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten.”

TBT: A Faith for Others | by H. D. M. Spence, 1909

The Servants
We have, in the first servant, the devoted earnest toiler, whose whole soul was in his Master’s work — great, indeed, was his reward.

Second, we have the servant who acquitted himself fairly respectably, but not nobly, not a hero in the struggle of life. He, too, is recompensed magnificently, far above his most ardent hopes, but still his reward is infinitely below that which the first brave toiler received at his Lord’s hands. 

The third falls altogether into a different catalogue. He is a believer who has not found the state of grace offered by Jesus so brilliant as he hoped. He is a legal Christian, who has not tasted grace, and knows nothing of the gospel but its severe morality. 

The Hearers
At first the smallness of the sum given to each of the servants is striking [a mina is 1/60 of a talent]. The paltriness of the sum given them seems to suggest what a future lay before Christ’s followers. No sharing in what they hoped for — the glories of a Messianic kingdom on earth. No rest in repose under the shadow of the mighty throne of King Messiah.

The “very little” (ver. 17) told them — if they would only listen — that their future as his servants would be a life of comparatively obscure inglorious activity, without rank or power, landless, homeless, nearly friendless.

The Reward
The reimbursement (at the end of the story) of a city for a pound hints at the magnificent possibilities of the heaven-life — it just suggests the splendor of its rewards.

Prayers from the Past
Helper of men who turn to you,
Light of men in the dark,
Creator of all that grows from seed,
Promotor of all spiritual growth,
Have mercy on me, Lord, on me
And make me a temple fit for yourself.

— Unknown author. Likely a private family prayer, found on papyrus, published 1924.

Images of Faith
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 16 (Listen – 5:02)
Luke 19 (Listen – 5:29)

Today’s post is bridged, with updated language, from Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). St Luke (Vol. 2, pp. 136–137). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

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Far Too Easily Pleased

Luke 18.18
A certain ruler asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

When Jesus asked about following the Ten Commandments the rich ruler replied, “All these I have kept from my youth.” Jesus had listed the later commandments (do not murder, commit adultery, steal, etc.), which are all outwardly verifiable. Had the rich ruler broken any of them — in a communal society — someone would have spoken up.

The first half of the Ten Commandments (no other gods, observe the sabbath, etc.) are matters of the heart. While they result in outward actions, it is possible to break them without anyone knowing.

The rich ruler was satisfied in his appearance of godliness. Confronted with the darkness of his heart’s true loyalties, he chose to walk away from Christ. Dealing with the reality of his heart would cost him his true god — a price he was unwilling to pay.

The human mind struggles to grasp eternal life; this is confessed through our loyalty to things outside of God. The authors of scripture call this idolatry. Like the rich man, we cling to our idols — wealth, comfort, control, and pleasure — trying to make the most out of this short life even if it costs us the next.

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us,” C.S. Lewis observes in his book, The Weight of Glory. “Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Prayer
Father, shine your light into the darkness of our hearts. Carry us in your grace as you heal us from our selfish pursuits. Give us satisfaction in you which cannot compare to the temporary pleasures and successes of this world.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 15 (Listen – 4:11)
Luke 18 (Listen – 5:27)

The Tree in the Sea

Luke 17.6
Jesus said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”

When Jesus wanted to create a picture of the potential of faith, he chose the arduous process of uprooting a tree. Jesus regularly drew teaching examples from his environment, but a tree seems odd for this particular teaching. We like to think of faith solving the world’s greatest problems — poverty, slavery, cancer, mental illness — not performing the tasks of an arborist.

The other image in this teaching is curious as well. The sea is an symbol of chaos and death in ancient Jewish culture. In Jesus’ day the sea was a place of tremendous risk and danger. Everyone knew someone who had gone out to sea and never returned.

“Jesus is not giving us some bizarre image of the impossible,” says Oxford’s Religion and Science Research Director, Andrew Pinset. The story is neither an inspirational image of faith or a condemnation for lack of it (for who has ever been able to use faith to cast a tree into the sea).

The story is about Christ himself. Pinset continues, “Jesus Christ, the mulberry tree, which has being maturing for over a thousand years in the spiritual soil of Israel, will be uprooted and re-planted in the bitter, salt water chaos of paganism.”

A mulberry tree is an image of life. Mulberries start out white and turn blood red when they ripen. Each tree’s root system is vast and complex — taking up to three years to develop to the point where the tree can bear its full fruit.

The New Testament’s writers insist that our world’s greatest problems are solved by faith. Jesus taught that it is not the amount of faith — indeed, it could be as small as a mustard seed — but by the object of our faith that saves.

Christ planted himself in the depths of chaos and evil in our world. He obeyed his father to the point of death and gave his blood to calm the waters in which we suffer. 

Prayer
Father, we long for the day that evil, chaos, and death are rebuked and all they have taken is restored. Let us look to you as the one who calms the waters. We pray, as your disciples did, that you would increase our faith.

Today’s Readings
Exodus 14 (Listen – 4:46)
Luke 17 (Listen – 4:22)

Images of Faith
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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