Archive for July, 2012

7 Meanwhile, the sailors said to each other, “Come on, let’s cast lots so that we might learn who is to blame for this evil that’s happening to us.” They cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they said to him, “Tell us, since you’re the cause of this evil happening to us: What do you do and where are you from? What’s your country and of what people are you?”

9 He said to them, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship the Lord, the God of heaven—who made the sea and the dry land.”

10 Then the men were terrified and said to him, “What have you done?” (The men knew that Jonah was fleeing from the Lord, because he had told them.)  — Jonah 1:7-10

By this point in the book of Jonah, so much has happened at a very fast pace.  God tells Jonah to “get up and go” to Nineveh – a large city in the middle of a nation that is an enemy of Israel.  Jonah decides to “get up and run” and gets on a ship heading to Tarshish.  In terms of geography, Jonah is headed in the opposite direction.  A storm rolls in and the sailors are scared to the point they are throwing their cargo into the see.  Then the captain finds Jonah asleep in the bottom of the ship and wakes him up.

That brings us back to the problem at hand.  There’s a problem – a huge problem!  This storm is threatening their lives and they are looking for a solution to the problem.  They turn to chance.  The casting of lots is used throughout scripture and it was seen as putting the situation in the hands of chance. There are no politics and agendas when you cast lots.

Interestingly, the lot falls on Jonah.  It seems to be a confirm what everyone else on board has been thinking but hasn’t said aloud.  They ask, “Who are you and what have you done?” Jonah declares that he follows and worships God.  It’s a statement that leads to even more questions because Jonah has already revealed to them that he is, in fact, running from the very God he says he worships and follows.

It’s interesting that Jonah declares that he worships and follows God, but, to this point in the story, he’s lived a life that seems to run counter to the claim.  The sailors listened to what Jonah said and they’ve witnessed the actions he has taken among them.  The sailors call Jonah out on his claim and ask, “What have you done?”  Jonah’s story (and especially in what happens next) can remind us that others watch us, they hear our claims and professions of faith in God, and then they measure that against the actions and the words that they hear from us.  And sometimes that can be very, very scary.

The challenge is that it’s more than just talking about God and making claims about being a follower.  We have to do more than that.  We live out of that belief in a world that’s watching everything we do.  We go where God sends us, we love the people God loves (and that’s all of them!) and we live Christ-like lives.  This week’s lectionary passage is from Ephesians 4 begins with the imperative to “Live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”  May God help us all!

Prayer: Gracious and Loving God, we are thankful for our opportunities to connect with and worship you.  Help us to live lives where our words and deeds back up our claims of belief.  Help us to put love into action. In Jesus name, Amen.

Now Jonah had gone down into the hold of the vessel to lie down and was deep in sleep. 6 The ship’s officer came and said to him, “How can you possibly be sleeping so deeply? Get up! Call on your god! Perhaps the god will give some thought to us so that we won’t perish.” – Jonah 1:5b-6

Has anyone ever accused you of being asleep at the wheel?

It’s definitely not a compliment.  In fact, it’s a statement that suggests you aren’t really doing your job.  Things are happening around you and you just aren’t engaged in them.

That’s the charge that the ship’s officer seems to be making to Jonah in this passage.  If you remember, God tells Jonah to “get up and go” to Nineveh and Jonah decides to “get up and run” to Tarshish.  He’s going a thousand miles in the wrong direction.

Because of his poor choice, Jonah ends up on a ship and a storm is swirling around it.  Jonah’s poor choice places other lives in jeopardy. The crew is afraid and they are throwing the precious cargo over the sides to save their lives.  If you’re a transport ship, your most valuable commodity is the cargo you carry.  It makes you money.  They are so afraid, they’re willing to lose profits to save their lives!

And when the captain finds Jonah, he’s sleeping through what is happening around him.  To this point in the story, Jonah is (1) running from God and (2) disengaged from what is happening in the world around him.

That’s a danger for us when it comes to faith.  It’s easy to become so wrapped up in being “Christian” that you forget to show “Christ” to the world.  Sometimes, the situation around has a way of waking us up and helping us to realize that it’s time to wake up and get back in the game.

May you enjoy this song from needtobreathe – it’s called Slumber and it urges us to “wake up!”

Prayer:  Almighty God, forgive us for the times we have disengaged from the world you love.  Help us to wake from our sleep and to love and serve in this time.  Amen.

1 The Lord’s word came to Jonah, Amittai’s son: 2 “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their evil has come to my attention.”

3 So Jonah got up—to flee to Tarshish from the Lord! He went down to Joppa and found a ship headed for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went aboard to go with them to Tarshish, away from the Lord. 4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, so that there was a great storm on the sea; the ship looked like it might be broken to pieces. 5 The sailors were terrified, and each one cried out to his god. They hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to make it lighter.  – Jonah 1:1-5 (CEB)

Location, location, location!

As they say in real estate and even business, location matters.  That’s why when reading this opening to Jonah, I get the sense that Jonah isn’t so troubled about God’s message that he needs to get up and go.  I think what troubles Jonah the most is the location where God sends him.

Nineveh! God sends Jonah on a mission that will take this prophet into the heart of the land occupied by a hated enemy.  But it’s not even that.  Jonah is supposed to go into the heart of the enemy’s land and tell the occupants of the city of Nineveh that they need to turn things around when it comes to God.  Maybe what we struggle with the most when it comes to God is that God’s very serious about that whole “love your neighbor” and “pray for you enemies” message.

So, God tells Jonah to “get up and go” and Jonah “got up” and flees the scene.

Jonah does what I sometimes want to do when I’m confronted by a tough situation that I really don’t want to deal with.  Jonah heads in the completely opposite direction.  God wants him to go to Nineveh and Jonah takes off for Tarshish – a city at almost the opposite end of the known world.

Because Jonah chose to run, he now brings others into the story.  A group of sailors on the ship find themselves in the middle of a storm.  Sometimes our running causes all kinds of storms in our life and so many others are pulled into the storm’s path.  The passage for today ends with the sailors praying to their gods for relief.

Have you ever decided to run from something?  Maybe you didn’t want to do what you felt God needed you to do. Maybe you were afraid.  You ran away and in your running, you brought others into the story.  Maybe as we start to think about Jonah, we can begin by remembering the times we have rebelled and run in the opposite direction.

Prayer:  Dear God, you call us to be your own and you invite us to be a part of what you are doing in the world. Forgive us for the times we run away and the times we draw others into our efforts to run away.  Help us to turn to you. In Jesus name, Amen.

23 Epaphras, who is in prison with me for the cause of Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as well as my coworkers Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke. 25 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. – Philemon 1:23-25 (Common English Bible)

There’s an image that I like to use sometimes in sermons of the cross.  The cross has two pieces.  There’s the vertical bar and that represents our relationship with God.  Then there’s the horizontal bar and it represents our relationship with others.

Salvation is not a solo act – it’s a community effort.  We are being saved daily in community.

There’s a myth that circulates and it’s easy to buy into it.  The myth says that you can be “spiritual but not religious.”  In reality what that means is that you can believe in God, but not be in a relationship with a community of faith.   But that’s like cutting off half of the cross.  We are in relationship with God and one another.

That’s where Paul ends this letter to Philemon.  Throughout this letter, Paul is sitting in prison and writing an appeal to Philemon, the master, on behalf of Onesimus, the runaway servant.  He’s making an appeal for Philemon, who has every reason to be angry, to drop the anger, to forgive Onesimus and to move forward in the relationship.  When he gets to the end of that appeal, Paul does a few “shout outs.”

This should be an indicator of the relationship between Philemon and the community of faith.  These are people that Philemon would also know – mutual friends in the faith journey.  There’s Epaphras, a fellow cellmate who says hello, and then the coworkers in ministry: Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke.

Relationships in faith matter.  We learn about love from our relationship with Jesus and we put that love into practice in our relationship with others.  Who are your friends in the journey?  Who lifts you up? Who would you include in your letter?  It’s a great day to think about and give praise for those who are your source of encouragement.

Prayer: Dear God, you have invited us to be in a relationship with you and to experience your love and grace. You ask us to share in that journey with others.  Thank you for those who share this road of faith with us.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

20 Yes, brother, I want this favor from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 I’m writing to you, confident of your obedience and knowing that you will do more than what I ask. 22 Also, one more thing—prepare a guest room for me. I hope that I will be released from prison to be with you because of your prayers. – Philemon 1:20-22

It’s amazing how an act of love and forgiveness can change hearts.  It’s easy to find yourself looking for the worst in others.  It’s easy to believe that you will be let down, that others will heart you, that you be stabbed in the back or that you might even be ignored.

But then someone does something. They say a kind word, they affirm you, the give you a gift “just because,” or maybe they just acknowledge you and what you’re going through.  Those actions have the ability to change the way that we see the world.

Maybe there’s that sense here for Paul. Throughout this letter, Paul has been appealing to Philemon (the master) to forgive Onesimus (the runaway servant).  Paul goes so far in the request that he says he’ll cover any debt owed between Philemon and Onesimus. In this appeal, Paul calls for Philemon to take this action – to forgive – because of his love for Christ and not because he is being forced to do so.  Acts of extravagant love and forgiveness are never forced but are freely given.

In his appeal, Paul says that Philemon’s forgiveness of Onesimus will “refresh” his heart.  In the face of a tough situation (the reconciliation of Philemon and Onesimus), Paul is looking for a glimpse of Jesus. When we act in extravagantly loving ways, we show the world a glimpse of Jesus.

When we act in love toward another, we produce a ripple of love and a glimpse of Jesus that spreads far beyond our own life.  Our acts of kindness and love have the potential to change the lives around us.  When the people you encounter in your life see you, do they see a glimpse of Jesus?  It’s a challenge for this week!

Prayer:  God, you have loved us in extravagant ways that go far beyond measure. Help us to love others in the same way.  In our actions, my others get a glimpse of Jesus’ love for us.  In Jesus name, Amen.

17 So, if you really consider me a partner, welcome Onesimus as if you were welcoming me. 18 If he has harmed you in any way or owes you money, charge it to my account. 19 I, Paul, will pay it back to you (I’m writing this with my own hand). Of course, I won’t mention that you owe me your life. – Philemon 1:17-19

A young boy was in the middle of doing what young boys do.  He picked up a rock and attempted to through it between his parents’ cars that were parked in the driveway.  The rock ended up in the backseat of one of the cars surrounded by pieces of broken glass.

The boy went to his father to tell him what had happened.  His father’s first response was to become angry, but as he looked at his son he saw the pain the child was feeling over his actions.  Daddy, he cried, I’m a terrible son.  I never meant to do this. I’ll never do this again. You can keep my allowance to pay for it.

The father was moved to tears and dropped to his knees in front of his son.  He held him close and said, “It’s OK buddy.  I forgive you and I’m going to pay for this for you.  You don’t owe anything.”

Has someone ever forgiven a debt on your behalf?  It’s an incredible statement of love when it happens.  In this passage from today, Paul intervenes into the dispute between Philemon (the master) and Onesimus (the servant) and offers to take on a debt that is not his to bear in order to fix the relationship.

In this we find an image of Jesus and atonement.  At-one-ment (try saying it that way to get the image!) means that Jesus has made us one with God.  We find it in such statements as “welcome Onesimus as if you were welcoming me” and if he owes you anything “charge it to my account.”  Paul personally intends to make things right in the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus.

These verses end with a statement that can be read a couple of ways.  Maybe we could see this as Paul trying to twist Philemon’s arm to respond – “you owe me your life.”  However, this truly seems to be a reminder of the love that Philemon has already experienced.  When one is forgiven, one’s best course of action is, in love, to forgive others.

Forgiven people forgive.  Maybe what Paul shows us is that the greatest response to the way Christ has forgiven us and covered our debt is to forgive and cover the debt of another.

Prayer:  God, you have loved us, forgiven us and covered a debt that we could not pay.  Help us to do the same for others in our life.  In Jesus name, amen.

15 Maybe this is the reason that Onesimus was separated from you for a while so that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—that is, as a dearly loved brother. He is especially a dearly loved brother to me. How much more can he become a brother to you, personally and spiritually in the Lord! – Philemon 1:15-16

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter offer opportunities to reconnect with people you haven’t seen in years.  It’s exciting to find your friends from high school and middle school.  It gives you the chance to catch up and build new friendships.

Someone once told me though that he found a downside to reconnecting on Facebook.  He said it was as if time had stood still.  Although you have grown and aged and experienced life, he said, those reconnections seem to take us back to where we used to be.  Those reconnections miss a gap of time and life that happened in between.

Maybe Paul’s trying to fill in the gap for Philemon. Philemon might remember Onesimus as the servant who ran away.  Yet, something’s happened since the last time that Philemon and Onesimus were face to to face.  According to Paul, Onesimus is no more than just a slave – he’s a beloved brother!

I love the challenge in these verses.  Don’t look at someone as what they once were – see them for what they are becoming.  I’m so thankful for those in my own life who see me in those terms.  They help me and encourage me and these words from Paul challenge me to do that for others.

Prayer:  God, help me to see the change and growth in others.  Help me to keep from seeing them as they were.  Help me to see them for what they are becoming in you.  In Jesus’ name, amen.