Keeping the Sabbath by Action

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 17.21-23
21 This is what the LORD says: Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem. 22 Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your ancestors. 23 Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to discipline.

Mark 3.4-6
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

Reflection: Keeping the Sabbath by Action
By John Tillman

There is more than one way to desecrate the Sabbath.

The way of “keeping the Sabbath holy” that we commonly think of is by limiting what we do. We refrain from doing work. We focus on spiritual matters. We prioritize worship. This is the kind of warning that Jeremiah was sent to cry. “Stop the clamour of commerce.” “Stop the wheels of wealth accumulation,” the prophet says. But Jesus defines a second requirement to keep the Sabbath holy. 

To Jesus, keeping the Sabbath holy meant staying in step with God’s Spirit and leaving nothing undone that the Spirit commanded. His stinging question about what is lawful on the Sabbath goes unanswered by the teachers of the law, not because they don’t know the answer, but because they don’t like the answer they would be forced to give.

Jeremiah banned commerce on the Sabbath because the day was intended to be about the worship of God and enriching the community rather than one’s self. Instead, over the centuries, the restrictions of the Sabbath had become excuses for selfish inaction. The experts of the law used their expertise to dodge responsibility rather than shoulder it and to accumulate wealth and power rather than honor God with it.

There’s more than one way to make Jesus angry. 

Inaction in the face of someone who needs help is one way that is very reliable. Jesus burns with anger for their heartlessness, but it’s more than activism—Jesus takes action. When we get angry, we tend to cause harm. When Jesus gets angry, he heals.

Jesus was angry because these teachers were doing what the wealthy of Jerusalem were doing in Jeremiah’s day. They were tying up heavy loads for others to carry, (and on the Sabbath, no less) but would not lift a finger to help them.

Keeping the Sabbath holy, maintaining God’s justice, and establishing righteousness are not passive, actionless, states of spiritual attainment. God’s holiness moves. God’s righteousness rolls like a river. God’s justice falls on the wicked.

May our holiness surpass that of the religious leaders, as Jesus prayed it would. 
May we not live in prayerlessness during the week and expect God to show up on the weekend.
May we fulfill the Sabbath by worshiping in spirit and truth.
May we not desecrate the Sabbath with inaction in the face of need.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
He looks at the earth and it trembles; he touches the mountains and they smoke. — Psalm 104.33

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 17 (Listen – 4:50) 
Mark 3 (Listen – 5:05)

Read more about The Focus of Christ’s Anger
It isn’t too often we see Jesus angry, so it makes sense to pay close attention to when and why it happens.

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What post helped you pray more passionately?

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Captivity, Exile, and Exodus

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 16.14-15
14 “However, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ 15 but it will be said, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave their ancestors.

Reflection: Captivity, Exile, and Exodus
By John Tillman

Jeremiah and other prophets spoke often of how eventually God’s people would return from exile. The return from exile narrative is a mirror-version of the Exodus from Egypt narrative. 

In this mirror version, the corrupt state of Egypt is the corrupt states of Israel and Judah. The false gods of Egypt are the false gods of Israel and Judah. The harsh, desert wilderness experience is the harsh experience of the people in captivity in exile. The entrance to the promised land is the return home of the exiled people of God from all corners of the world.

In the original Exodus narrative, God’s people were enslaved by state power. The people did not abandon God, the state turned against them. In freeing the people from Egypt, God used plagues that were specific attacks on the false gods of the state in order to free his people to worship him, the one true God.

But Jeremiah describes a different kind of enslavement. While living in political freedom, the people of Israel and Judah became spiritually enslaved. They rejected God and set up their own gods and a government filled with oppression and mistreatment of the poor and outcasts. In the desert, they grumbled to go back to Egypt. When they made it to the promised land, they made another Egypt out of it.

The governments God established for his people were intended to be a light to the pagan world, carrying out God’s justice and demonstrating his righteousness. Instead, they became just like the pagan nations. The formerly oppressed, became oppressors. The formerly abused, became abusers. Israel became Egypt. 

How often do we repeat this cycle?
How often do we become our own spiritual oppressors, enslaving ourselves to sins and idolatry? 
What unholy “state” do we build up, abusing the power we have for our benefit?
What gods do we allow to set up shop in the temple of our hearts?
What suffering people have we shut out to make more room for ourselves?

God brought plagues to destroy the false gods. May he destroy ours. 
God moved his people through a place of suffering and purification. May we follow him.
God restored his people and renewed his covenant with them. May we seek his face in repentance and be restored.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick…And indeed I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners. — Matthew 9.12-13

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 16 (Listen – 3:52) 
Mark 2 (Listen – 5:05)

Read more about Keeping The Greatest Commandments
Even Christians are easily misled into thinking love is primarily a feeling. Yet, it is so much more.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year. What post helped you forgive?

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Wake-up Call

Scripture Focus: Matthew 25.44-46
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Jeremiah 11.11-14
11 Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. 12 The towns of Judah and the people of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they will not help them at all when disaster strikes. 13 You, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns; and the altars you have set up to burn incense to that shameful god Baal are as many as the streets of Jerusalem.’
14 “Do not pray for this people or offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.

Reflection: Wake-up Call
By John Tillman

The three stories of Matthew 25 are connected, presented in series with an intentional theme. Last January we wrote:

Matthew 25 is famous for the sheep and the goats parable. But really, the entire chapter is about people who shirked their responsibilities to themselves, to their master, and to others. The foolish virgins, the wicked servant, and the goats are a trinity of spiritual neglect.

The sin of neglect seems to be one that surprises each of the condemned groups and individuals in these stories. Pray that you may not be surprised.

During seminary days, while traveling on a ministry team on a long drive, someone suggested putting on a Keith Green album. The driver, a good friend, responded, “Oh good. I haven’t doubted my salvation in a while. Put it in.”

We all laughed but I will never forget it. Because, the truth was, and is, that we don’t often listen to music that challenges us. We tune in for encouragement.  We don’t often listen to sermons that challenge us. We tune out words of conviction.

This is bad news for us because when we tune out the voices correcting us for long enough, God lets us tune out. He allows us to develop spiritual cataracts and tunnel vision. He allows us to blow out our eardrums so that we can’t hear him anymore.

We need things in our spiritual lives to jar us out of our complacency and cause us to reevaluate our dedication to Christ. We need a wake-up call.

From the careless virgins buzzes an alarm: Take initiative! Don’t be passive about personal spiritual disciplines!
From the slothful servant rings a reveille trumpet: Be invested! Give your all to what providence invests in you!
From the goats, a clamorous claxon resounds: Serve Others! Serve the poor! Serve the hungry! Serve the outcast!
And from Jeremiah, we see the outcome of ignoring God’s calls—God will block our calls. “…I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.”

Don’t push “snooze” on the alarms sounding in these passages. Their intention is not to terrify us, but to guide us to action. His desire is for no one to perish, so open your eyes, open your ears. Attend to your spiritual responsibilities to yourself, to Christ, our master, and to those around you.

Music: The Sheep and the Goats (Live Performance) — Keith Green

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that he is near, right at the gates. In truth I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.”

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 11 (Listen – 4:09) 
Matthew 25 (Listen – 6:04)

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Read more about A Trinity of Neglect
The foolish virgins, the wicked servant, and the goats are a trinity of spiritual neglect.

Cherishing Chaff

Scripture Focus: Matthew 24.1-2
1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Jeremiah 10.19-21
19 Woe to me because of my injury!
    My wound is incurable!
Yet I said to myself,
    “This is my sickness, and I must endure it.”
20 My tent is destroyed;
    all its ropes are snapped.
My children are gone from me and are no more;
    no one is left now to pitch my tent
    or to set up my shelter.
21 The shepherds are senseless
    and do not inquire of the Lord;
so they do not prosper
    and all their flock is scattered.

Reflection: Cherishing Chaff
By John Tillman

Some buildings are great by age and grandeur and some by the gleam and glisten of modern glass and steel. However, no matter how impressive a building is when you walk, ride, or drive by it regularly, it becomes just a part of the scenery. 

How impressive does a building have to be for you to still comment on it as you pass by, years later? Why would the disciples call Jesus’ attention to the impressive buildings of the Temple that both he and they had been worshiping in their entire lives?

The Temple had been standing for 500 years and had been extensively renovated and repaired by Herod during the disciple’s lifetimes. Perhaps the disciples were happy to see some scaffolding come down on an area that had been newly restored. 

But the Temple’s shiny new sheen couldn’t distract Jesus’ eyes from the self-righteous deceit within and the suffering he saw over the horizon. The disciples saw the Temple as grand, renewed, and a symbol of strength and status. Jesus saw its present and future, sinful, destroyed, and humiliated.

Herod was a ruler of nominal faith at best. (Even that is being extraordinarily generous.) Herod was corrupt, a womanizer, boastful, and lived in a sinful relationship. He “liked to listen” to John the Baptist, but that didn’t stop him from cutting off the prophet’s head. 

Herod’s work on the Temple wasn’t faith-driven. It was a political tactic to boost his status and generate support among the people—and it worked. Even the disciples of Jesus were impressed.

The Temple, and Herod, are just two examples of things unworthy of the esteem and attention the disciples gave them. Many things the disciples prized, Jesus recognized as poison. Many things they cherished Jesus called chaff in the wind. 

What catches our eyes? What chaff do we cherish or poison do we prize? A building? A politician? A charismatic leader? An institution? Point out to Jesus what catches your eye. Seek his opinion on whether you should hold it up for honor or whether it is destined to be thrown down.

Physical idols, whether statues, buildings, institutions, or living humans, are the product of inward sin. We worship them instead of God because inwardly we refuse to trust God or we have denounced God. Allow the revelation of outward idols to lead you to discover inward attitudes that must be torn down.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God. — Psalm 84.1

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 10 (Listen – 3:51) 
Matthew 24 (Listen – 5:59)

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Read more about Treasuring Our Temples
Judah treasured the Temple’s importance but not its inhabitant. They treasured the regalia, not the relationship.

Praying Through Weeping—Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 9.17-18
This is what the Lord Almighty says:
“Consider now! Call for the wailing women to come;
send for the most skillful of them.
Let them come quickly
and wail over us
till our eyes overflow with tears
and water streams from our eyelids.

Reflection: Praying Through Weeping—Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

If prayer is relationship then when God weeps, we should join. What friend would weep, whom we would not join in weeping? Weeping for our own hurts and harms is one thing. Weeping for what grieves God is a prophetic task and a work of faith.

Weep in prayer with the weeping prophet. Jeremiah’s tears, just like his words, are not his own. They are as much a part of the revelation of God as the words he writes.

Oh, that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people. — Jeremiah 9.1

Jeremiah expresses our desire to escape evil—fleeing to the desert to be away from wrongdoers.

Oh, that I had in the desert
a lodging place for travelers,
so that I might leave my people
and go away from them;
for they are all adulterers,
a crowd of unfaithful people. — Jeremiah 9.2

We confess we are part of a culture that seeks out its own version of truth.
We confess that we live in echo-chambers of the lies we prefer rather than the truth. Any lie or obfuscation is acceptable as long as it can be weaponized to help us win.

“They make ready their tongue
like a bow, to shoot lies;
it is not by truth
that they triumph in the land.
They go from one sin to another;
they do not acknowledge me,”
declares the Lord. — Jeremiah 9.3

Weep with Christ prophetically. He weeps that our hypocrisy not only harms us, but blocks the path of redemption for others.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. — Matthew 23.13

“And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.” — Matthew 23.35-36

More specifically, judgment would fall within the next week. And more personally, it would fall on Christ himself.

Christ can weep with us and wipe away our tears because he took the just payment for their cause.

Divine Hours Prayer:
Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice, but you take not delight in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; and a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. — Psalm 51.16-18

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 9 (Listen – 4:38) 
Matthew 23 (Listen – 4:53)

Read more about Undignified Weeping and Dancing
Hannah carried the weight of her grief to God’s presence and broke open her heart with shameless weeping.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.

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