Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Approximate Notes of Sunday’s Message; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; 2nd Sunday of Advent

Scripture for this week 2 Peter 3:8-15a

You can read this Scripture here: {NIV and ESV}

“I know he came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man who one day died for you and me
My sins would drive the nails in him
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath he drew was Hallelujah”

 

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It is the Advent Season; Christmas is just around the corner and we want to think about baby Jesus, cute reindeer with jingly bells, singing angels, and shepherds rejoicing in the fields.

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Today’s Scripture does not seem to tell any of that. Today’s lectionary reading says things like, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.”

Pretty drastic. How could it be that Jesus’ second coming is compared to the coming of a common thief?

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Last week we saw that Jesus was born into a world torn by ideological bickering and civil wars. Judea was divided into warring factions; everyone had an opinion about everything and nobody cared to take the time to understand what others thought or wanted to say.

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Some Judeans were hoping for a military resolution: they hoped for a leader – a general – who would lead them to victory and independence.

Some others were hoping for a political resolution: they hoped for a philosopher – a wise man – who would help the warring factions find common ground.

Others wanted a priest who would inspire respect for the Temple.

Others wanted a Rabbi who would give them a blueprint for how to navigate their lives.

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Because everyone was so self-absorbed with their own agendas, the birth of Jesus was largely unnoticed. In today’s Scripture reading we heard that “the day of the Lord” – the Second Coming – “will come like a thief.” Any thief hopes to come and leave your house unnoticed. The man who wrote today’s Scripture makes a point that Jesus came and left largely unnoticed because the world that he was born into was too busy bickering. In the Gospel of John Chapter 1 verse 11 we read, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

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Those who do not learn from history will repeat its mistakes.

All of us are busy getting ready for Christmas — shopping and decorating, baking and cleaning, writing cards and invitations. There’s a lot of pressure this time of the year for things to be {“} “perfect”; we search for the perfect gift, we make sure that the house is ready for visitors, we fuss, we hustle and bustle to make sure that elusive “perfection” is captured, stabilized and anchored in the spot where we want it to be.

That pressure of perfection is exhausting. With all that busyness it is too easy to lose sight of the real reason for our activity: “the Word made flesh coming to dwell among us” (John 1:1-5).

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The hustle and bustle of preparation around us can extinguish the light of God within us.

This year I want to challenge all of us (myself included) to trade the hustle and bustle, trumped-up habits, personal traditions and expectations of ourselves and others for a little more peace in your heart and in your home. Let the recognition that God came to be among us fill every nook and cranny of our souls. May the Light of God that John talked about shine all around you this Christmas season. With all the busyness, let us not forget to prepare a peaceful place in our hearts where Jesus is welcome to come and to dwell.

In our shopping and baking, let us remember that not everyone has the resources to shop and bake and decorate their home. What needs to change in our society so that more families can make ends meet, and what can we do as a church to facilitate that societal change?

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Today’s opening song asserts that Jesus’ whole life was Halleluiah! What is your “Halleluiah?”

May you be the personification of the mind and the Spirit of Christ (Phil 2:5).

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Thinking Towards Sunday; December 10, 2017, 2 Sunday of Advent

Scripture for this week 2 Peter 3:8-15a

You can read this Scripture here: {NIV and ESV}

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; 1st Sunday of Advent; December 3, 2017

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Malachi 3:1-4, 6-7a, 17-18; Malachi 4:1-6; Galatians 4:4-6

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

This Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent.

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Today we heard some of the last words that were written in the Hebrew Bible and some of the first words written in the Early Christian writings.

The ministry of Malachi took place sometime around 420 BCE; it was the last canonical book written in the Hebrew Bible.

John the Baptist’s ministry took place early in the 1st Century CE. The Book of Galatians is the first canonical book that was written in the New Testament, written by Paul around 49 CE.

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The gap of time between the period covered by the Hebrew Bible and the period covered by the Early Christian Writings is known as the Intertestamental Period.

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“In the fullness of time, God sent his Son, born of the woman…” (paraphrase of Gal 4:4). I was always intrigued by these words; what does the “fullness of time” mean?

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Jesus’ first Advent took place “in the fullness of time.” To understand what these words mean, we need to look at the history of Israel leading to the birth of Jesus – His First Advent.

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In 586 BCE King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon conquered Judah. He destroyed the Temple built by Solomon and exiled the Jews to Babylon. The Jewish King Jehoiachin was eventually released by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 52:31; 2 Kings 25:27) and according to the Bible, the Judean royal family (the Davidic line) continued as head of the exiled community in Babylon.

In 538 BCE, Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylon and took over its empire. Cyrus issued a proclamation granting subjugated nations (including the people of Judah) religious freedom (See Ezra 1). According to the Hebrew Bible 50,000 Judeans, led by Zerubabel, returned to Judah and rebuilt the temple. A second group of 5,000, led by Ezra and Nehemiah, returned to Judah in 456 BCE.

In 333 BCE, Alexander the Great defeated Persia and conquered the region. After Alexander’s death, his generals fought over the territory he had conquered.

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Judah became the frontier between the Seleucid Empire and Ptolemaic Egypt, eventually becoming part of the Seleucid Empire in 200 BCE at the battle of Panium.

In the 2nd century BCE, Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes tried to eradicate Judaism in favor of the Hellenistic religion and traditions. This provoked a revolt lead by Judas Maccabeus in 174–135 BCE (the victory of this revolt is celebrated in the Jewish festival of Hanukkah – in 2017 it is observed December 12 – 20).

A Jewish party called the Hasideans opposed both Hellenism and the Maccabean revolt but eventually gave their support to the Maccabees. That led to a civil war between Hellenized and orthodox forms of Judaism. As a result of this civil war the Hasmonean dynasty was established. Between approximately 140 and 116 BCE, Hasmoneans ruled semi‑autonomously from the Seleucids in the region of Judea. When the Seleucid Empire disintegrated in 110 BCE, the Hasmoneans became fully independent rulers.

They ruled Judea with the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes as the principal Jewish social movements. As part of the struggle against the Hellenistic civilization, the Pharisee leader Simeon ben Shetach established the first schools based around meeting houses. This led to Rabbinical Judaism. Justice was administered by the Sanhedrin, which was a Rabbinical assembly, and law court whose leader was known as the Nasi. The Nasi’s religious authority gradually superseded that of the Temple’s high priest.

The Hasmonean Dynasty and their followers continually extended their control over much of the region. In 125 BCE the Hasmonean tribal leader John Hyrcanus subjugated the territory of Edom and forced the population to convert to Judaism. Hyrcanus’ son Alexander Jannaeus established good relations with the Roman Republic; however there was growing tension between the Pharisees and Sadducces and a conflict over the succession to Janneus, in which the warring parties invited Roman intervention on their behalf.

In 64 BCE the Roman general Pompey conquered Syria and intervened in the Hasmonean civil war in Jerusalem.

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During the siege of Alexandria in 47 BCE, the lives of Mark Antony and his protege Cleopatra (a.k.a Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) were saved by 3,000 Jewish troops sent by King Hyrcanus II and commanded by Antipater. As a reward for saving his life, Caesar made Antipater a king of Judea.

From 37 BCE to 6 CE, the Herodian dynasty, descended from Antipater, ruled Judea; they were appointed and protected by Romans. Herod the Great considerably enlarged the temple, making it one of the largest religious structures in the world. Despite Temple fame, it was in this period that Rabbinical Judaism, led by Hillel the Elder, began to assume popular prominence over the Temple priesthood. The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was granted special permission by the Romans to not display an effigy of the emperor, becoming the only religious structure in the Roman Empire that did not do so. Special dispensation was granted for Jewish citizens of the Roman Empire to pay a tax to the Temple in Jerusalem. They were also granted freedom from conscription to the Roman Army.

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Today is the first Sunday of Advent. All of us want to think about the baby Jesus, the empathy-lacking innkeeper, noble Joseph and obedient Mary. The reason I am giving you all these dry facts is because Jesus was born in the “fullness of time.” We just heard what this meant, a tumultuous 400 years, filled with strife, revolts, civil wars, invasions, intrigue, confusion and frustration.

Jesus was born into a world plagued not only by the darkness of individual pain and sin, but also by the darkness of oppression. Jesus’ own people, the Hebrews, were brutally oppressed by the Romans and by their own leaders jousting for influence. Jesus was born into a world where the darkness of long-standing oppression and strife had extinguished any hope for the future and made daily survival an ordeal for ordinary people like you and I.

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In the past, when the Hebrews were in a similar predicament in Egypt, God sent a general and a lawyer. I am talking about Moses, of course. Moses led the Hebrews through the strife of Exodus, through the squabbles in the desert, through tribal fighting, and brought them to the Promised Land.

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Now, “in the fullness of time,” some of the Judeans were hoping for a military leader – a general – who would lead them to victory and independence. Some others were hoping for a philosopher – a wise man – who could bring all the warring factions together. Others wanted a priest who would inspire respect for the Temple. Others wanted a Rabbi who would give them a blueprint for how to navigate their lives.

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Instead, Salvation was born as a baby. His modest birth was overlooked by the powerful. His parents were forced to run to Egypt to protect His life when Herod decided to kill all the newborn boys. He was raised as a peasant, and learned to read and write in one of the Rabbinical synagogues that were packed with common people.

Yet, in spite of his humble beginnings, his life, his ministry, his death and resurrection changed the world. It still reverberates through the history of humanity changing lives and inspiring countless men and women to achieve, to accomplish and to serve God by serving the world in which we live.

{Transition to the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

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Thinking Towards Sunday; December 3, 2017; 1 Sunday of Advent

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Malachi 3:1-4, 6-7a, 17-18; Malachi 4:1-6; Galatians 4:4-6

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

Approximate Notes for Christ the King Sunday Message; November 26, 2017

NIV2010 Numbers 13: 21 So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. 22 They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. 25 At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.

26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there.

NIV2010 Numbers 14: 1 That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

May God Add God’s Blessing

to the Reading, Hearing, Understanding and

Living of God’s Word

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Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), the leader of the Indian Independence Movement, is quoted as saying, “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny [future].”

I am not going as far as to say that this is a universally true statement, although it sounds correct. What I know from my personal experience is that there is a direct correlation between my past thoughts and my present life.

Last week we saw the Hebrews confronted with the reality that their recent freedom also meant facing hardships of survival in the desert. They had not thought that far ahead while they were still in Egypt. We saw that although they did not like being oppressed in Egypt, they knew how to handle that oppression. It was familiar to them, they knew what to expect. By contrast, in the desert they did not know how to survive, how to search for food or water, they missed their creature comforts and familiar tastes.

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I understand that it would take about two weeks to walk from the traditional place of the crossing of the Sea of Reeds to the boundary of the Promised Land. The Hebrews were new to living in the desert; let’s assume that it took them two months to get to the Promised Land. Before entering, two spies were sent to see what was on the other side of the border, and we know that the spies spent forty (40) days there (reference). That is where we find the Hebrews today.

The spies came back with “a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes.” It was so large that it took the “two of them [to carry] it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs” (Numbers 13:23). They observed that, the Promised Land, “…flow[s] with milk and honey! … 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large” (Numbers 13:27 – 28).

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That brings us back to the quote from Mahatma Gandhi. “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny [future].”

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Listen to the response from the community on the spies’ report.

NIV2010 Numbers 14: 1 That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

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Today is a special Sunday on the Church Calendar. It is known as Christ the King Sunday. As such, today lends itself to reflection on our journeys in the past year (both individually and as a community) and to an evaluation of how we made a positive difference in God’s Creation. It is an opportunity to reflect on what we have learned, on the world that we live in, how God has been present in our lives, what God is doing in God’s world and what we can do to serve God in the future.

The easiest thing for me to do today would be to deliver an inspiring message about mission and outreach, the importance of tithing, to thank everyone for their faithfulness to this church and for sitting in the pews every Sunday, to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy, and then give the benediction and everyone would go home happy.

But if I were to do that I would be doing all of us, including myself, a huge disservice. It would be a disservice because we live in complicated times and because our lives are filled with choices and difficult decisions. Our future depends on the decisions that we are making or not making in the present.

Today’s Scriptures offer us a glimpse of what it means to have a relationship with God, and how God influences all of us.

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God took the Hebrews out of Egypt and we heard the Hebrews cry something like, “I don’t want to grow up, I am a Toys-R-Us kid, I want to go back to Egypt.”

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But God did not take the Hebrews back to Egypt. God also did not destroy them. Instead, God took the Hebrews on a 40-year journey in the desert. By doing this, God allowed those who did not have the mindset to enter the Promised Land to live out their days, while raising the new generation.

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In Numbers 14:33-34 we hear, “33 Your children will be shepherds here [in the desert] for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. 34 For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.”

In Joshua 5:6 we hear, The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

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I believe that we are created to be the best version of ourselves. That means that we are meant to grow in our relationship with God, and in our relationships with others. The period of time that God led the Hebrews as they wandered in the desert gives us a glimpse of what it means to us to have Jesus as our King, as our Mentor, as our Guidance.

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Jesus, our Mentor, challenges us to reflect on our journeys (both individually and as a community) and to evaluate how we have made a positive difference in God’s Creation in the past year.

Jesus, our Redeemer and Messiah, asks of us these questions, “Are we closer to God today than we were a year ago? Do we see God clearer than we did a year ago? Do we love God dearer than we did a year ago? Do we follow God nearer than we did a year ago?” (Prayer of Richard of Chicheser).

Jesus, our Guidance Counselor, asks of us a question, “How will our past inspire and inform our future as we strive to be the best versions of what God created us to be?”

{Illustration}

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Deuteronomy 8: 2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

Christ the King Sunday asks us to reflect on what we have learned, on the world that we live in, how God has been present in our lives, what God is doing in God’s world and what we can do to serve God in the future.

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Paul described what he hoped the outcome of such reflection would be in Ephesians 1:17-19:

17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him [God] better [“to see thee more clearly, to love thee more dearly, to follow you more nearly” – Richard of Chichester]. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the HOPE to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

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Am I the only one who has found myself in the “desert” sometime during my life? Am I the only one to have cried in the past that I wanted things to stay the same.

Am I the only one to recognize that as a church (big C) we are in the desert? We want to protect what we know and love, but in doing so we also prevent new life from taking root.

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Thinking Towards Sunday; Christ the King Sunday; November 28, 2017

Scriptures for this Sunday is: Numbers 13:21 – 28; Numbers 14:1-4

You can read these scriptures here: {NIV2010 and ESV}

An Ecumenical Thanksgiving Worship Planned for Brookside.

Canadian Catholic Priest, Fr. Thomas Rosica, writes

(see http://saltandlighttv.org/blogfeed/getpost.php?id=58981),

The celebration of Thanksgiving in Canada makes an interesting counterpoint to the holiday celebrated by our American neighbours (sic). While Americans remember the Pilgrims settling in the New World, Canadians give thanks for a successful harvest.  At the heart of our Thanksgiving celebration is the idea of giving thanks for the goodness of the season past. …

Thankfulness is much more than saying “Thank you” because we have to. Thankfulness is a way to experience the world, a way to perceive, a way to be surprised. Thankfulness is having open eyes and a short distance between the eyes and the heart.

In the Old Country we did not have a holiday called “Thanksgiving.” Instead we had an unofficial period of time set aside for a “feast” that lasted almost two weeks. That feast happened around harvest time (early to mid September, when a certain variety of grapes and yellow figs were ripe). We would visit each other, make special pastries and meals that were usually shared with friends and neighbors and shared family stories. I remember the taste of sweet, juicy grapes mixed with the saltiness of feta, string cheese “suluguny”, “peda” bread and the tanginess of stuffed grape leaves. Quite a bit of what I know of my family history I learned in that setting.

I think that is a major part of the Holy Day of Thanksgiving. It is a feast that helps the community to become reconciled. As we share our stories and break bread together, we experience the transformation and transcendence of the mundane, physical, and temporal dimensions of reality, we are invited to experience the goodness and mercy of God.

This year our church will be part of an ecumenical Thanksgiving worship service on Tuesday, November 21, 2017 @ 7 pm at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church.

I hope to see many of you at this service.

Philos,

Pastor Asher

 

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Approximate Notes for Thanksgiving 2017 Message

Behold how good and pleasant it is for sisters and brothers to worship together in unity! (Psalm 133)

{Acknowledgments)

I struggled as I was preparing today’s message. At this time in the life of our country, divisions in our society run deep. We are divided across socio-economic and racial lines; there is a huge generation gap that brings with it another level of animosity. International news is not any better. It almost feels like the whole world is ready to erupt in flames. It is depressing and scary.

That brings me to the task at hand. What can I say that would end with “we ought to be thankful,” and would not sound hollow and meaningless. And that forced me to think of Thanksgiving from a different perspective.

We think that Thanksgiving began with the Pilgrims in the early 1600s, but I want to suggest that Thanksgiving is actually rooted in prehistoric times, long before the first Pilgrim ever set foot on this continent.

Thanksgiving began with a journey. There were migrations long before the Pilgrims. There were migrations of indigenous groups from Africa to Asia to Europe to America. These migrations continued over centuries, and they crisscrossed the globe with wave after wave of immigrants, refugees, slaves, wanderers and dreamers.

These travelers came from one place and settled somewhere else. Without those journeys, without their legacy to inspire the Pilgrims, without their longing for a better future, there would be no Pilgrims landing on American shores and there would be no annual Thanksgiving feast.

Journeys and migrations may sound exciting, and they are, but they are not easy. A long list of traumas and tragedies that took place during those journeys have been forgotten over time.

Thanksgiving is in part about remembering that there are stories and that these stories are sacred, they are a part of who each of us is. That is what God did for us. God didn’t simply pass over our sins and choose not to remember them. God engaged with our sins, God battled our sins on the cross and paid for them with His own blood, sweat and tears. We remember that sacrifice and that story every time we celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.

The forgotten traumas, tragedies, and accomplishments over time were compressed into what has become our common bond. All of us share the common story that our ancestors arrived from somewhere and settled somewhere else; there was a journey, and more than likely it was demanding. The world that we live in is built on the legacy of a multitude of these journeys, made in different eras, by different people. The shared human experience of what happened during these journeys is what binds us and unites us. These journeys give us a common story and shared experiences with all other humans.

Generations upon generations of our ancestors journeyed all over the world before coming to these shores with the idea of building a new world, filled with possibility and hope. Eventually the migrations began that brought our ancestors to these shores. They came hoping for better lives, for a safer future for their children, for economic opportunity, for freedom to worship God. They came filled with excitement, optimism and energy.

That is the idea of the American Dream. It is an idea that our best tomorrows are in front of us regardless of what is happening today because, if history is any indication, it shows that we have always managed to pull together when times were tough.

And now it is our turn. And what a better place to start pulling together than to share a story. The way I think of Thanksgiving is that there is one gigantic table. There are countless people sitting at this table and all of them are sharing a single meal: men and women, children and adults, healthy and frail, poor and rich, black and white, blue and red.

I see an investment banker from Delaware seated next to a truck stop waitress from Nevada.

I see a farmer from the mid-west exchanging stories with a fisherman from New England.

I see a bearded professor from MIT passing the gravy to a bearded auto mechanic from the sticks of Alabama.

I see a young soldier from Wisconsin laughing at a joke that a little old lady from Maryland just told him.

This gigantic table stretches far into the distance, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, from the Canadian border to the southern border with Mexico. People from all regions of our great country have found their seats and enjoy their meal at the same time. At this table, the barriers that we built to separate us are removed. OUR WHOLE NATION SITS DOWN TO A SINGLE MEAL. At that table and in that moment we are indeed ONE NATION UNDER GOD WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL. This dinner is shared in the homes of the wealthy, middle class and the poor. It takes place in soup kitchens and in suburban restaurants and diners; it happens with stuffy formality and with casual folksiness.

This Thanksgiving, give thanks to God for the story that all of us share, give thanks to God for the legacy that we have inherited and are tasked to carry forward.

May God bless America, and may our tomorrows be filled with thanksgiving, excitement and adventure.

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; November 19, 2017

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Exodus 16:1-3, 13-16, 17:1-7

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

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In October 2013, Debbie and I were on a cruise ship that visited the Island of Saint Lucia. As we were sailing away in the late afternoon, I was standing on the deck with my camera taking pictures. All of a sudden, from a balcony below I heard a man crying out, “I want a rum punch!” I cannot possibly describe what he sounded like because I can’t replicate the longing and frustration in his voice as he bellowed out, “I want a rum punch!” every 20 seconds or so. I think, that he has been on a boating excursion that afternoon and had a wonderful time, and what he really wanted was to be back in that “happy place.”

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Today we heard a reading from Exodus and we heard the Children of Israel crying their version of, “I want a rum punch!” In today’s reading we heard “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:3). … “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” (Exodus 17:3).

We are preparing for Advent season. It is impossible to understand and comprehend the ministry of Jesus – the events of Easter, and Christmas without understanding the patriarchs and exodus. That is why several previous messages were about Abraham and Jacob, and today I want to talk about the Hebrews wandering in the desert.

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Exodus was a painful and defining experience in the psyche of Hebrews. It was so defining that to this day every devout Jewish household in the world observes it, and Christians, as the theological descendants of Abraham celebrate Easter, which is Christian Holy Day rooted in the celebration of Passover.

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In Exodus 1:6-8 we hear, “… Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them. Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt.” That new pharaoh was concerned about the security of his borders and he was worried about peace in his lands. From archeology we know that when Joseph became a vizier in Egypt, the ruling class were Hyksos. Hyksos’ were Semitic people, who somehow won control of the lands. We still do not know the whole story, we do not know where they came from, nor what happened to them after Egypt won independence again. Hyksos’ Pharaoh was much more inclined to look favorably on Hebrews because they were their distant cousins. That is why Hebrews enjoyed protection and special privileges under Hyksos rulers. When Egypt won their independence again, when a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt (Exodus 1:8), Egyptians were rightly concerned that Hebrews could rebel. There were too many of them to deport, and there were too many of them to eradicate without civil war. So the Pharaoh and the ruling class started oppressing the Hebrews, destroying their hopes, squelching their self-esteem, making it difficult to survive.

Eventually things got so bad that God sent Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. Just to put things into perspective,

Isn’t it surprising that after witnessing God’s power and presence in such mighty ways, the Hebrews are saying that they want to go back to Egypt?

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In the wilderness the Hebrews were faced with the reality of what it meant that they were no longer slaves in Egypt. They may have been unhappy in Egypt, but they knew how to deal with that unhappiness; there was a certain routine and rhythm to life, and that routine of oppression became their identity. Now in the desert they had to face a new, painful reality. And from that reality, the security of their oppression in Egypt seemed better than the ambiguity of the harsh conditions, that they found themselves in, while in the desert. Their laments came because the Hebrews could not even imagine a new and different life for themselves in the Promised Land.

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The reason this is relevant to us is because we too live in a world where a new reality, a “new king,” a new set of values, has come to reign supreme. This new king is secularism. We live at a time and in a place where it is not fashionable to have faith and to honor God. As a society, all of us are paying the price. Many times when I say that I am an Evangelical Christian, that I believe that the Holy Spirit of our God is guiding my life, that Jesus died on the Cross for me and that God the Father cares about “even such a wretch as I,” someone will roll their eyes and say something like, “Oh, you are one of those…”

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And as the Church (big C) in North America we are all crying, “I want a rum punch!” We are hoping that a miracle will happen and the 1950s will return and our pews will be packed again. In doing so, we totally overlook the fact that the 2050s are within reach. We overlook the fact that there is discussion in our society of what it means to be a believer and what God is doing in the world today. I think that as a Church (big C), we fail to create an environment where new ideas can germinate, and we do not give new ideas room or time to grow to maturity.

Art is a lie that tells us something about the truth. In our Bible study we just finished the movie The Shack. Previously we saw Stranger than Fiction, The Intern, and The 100 Foot Journey.

These movies give us a glimpse of what it means to honor God and to be a good neighbor in the context of the times that we live in. These movies challenge anyone who is willing to listen to consider the nature of God and who God is to each and every one of us, and more importantly, what God is doing in the world around us today. That is important, because when we are with God, all things are possible.

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The truth is that we are a small community of believers. We cannot change the direction of the whole North American Church (big “C”). But we can do something in our church community.

Thinking Towards Sunday; November 19, 2017

Scriptures for this Sunday are: Exodus 16:1-3, 13-16, 17:1-7

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV} 

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; Sunday, November 12, 2017; Military Appreciation Sunday

This Sunday we will Celebrate all those who served in the Military and their families.

Scriptures for this Sunday: 2 Timothy 1:6-10

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

This week our Opening and Closing Hymns will be led by Kelli and Jim playing guitars.

Our opening hymn will be: Let There Be Peace on Earth (UMH 431)

Our closing hymn will be: The Battle Hymn of the Republic (UMH 717)

 

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Veterans Day is a day set aside for us to express our gratitude to all veterans for their willingness to do the difficult job of defending our country, acting as mediators or peacekeepers in conflicts and aiding the citizens of this nation in times of natural disaster or civil unrest. Whether or not we approve of our nation’s foreign policy, we need to support the everyday people — mostly working class, often minorities — who fight our nation’s wars. They deserve our prayers and praise. They deserve our support because so many of these young men and women have been inexorably and tragically changed by the tragedy of war and by the violence and suffering that they witnessed.

Truth be told, most of us don’t know what it feels like to feed fleas and lice for months on end while living in the trenches and being shot at; I hope and pray that we never find out.

Truth be told, most of us don’t know what it feels like to take another human life and what it does to our psyche; I hope and pray that we never have to find out.

Truth be told, most of us do not understand the emotional battles that our veterans live through every day of their lives after returning home. Just like our veterans from World War II, from Korea, and Vietnam, some of our veterans returning from the Far East and Middle East come home with deep physical and psychological wounds, scarred not just in body, but also in mind. As a nation, and as Christian sisters and brothers, it is our duty to help to heal these wounds with love, patience, understanding, respect, and admiration.

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The sad truth is that our soldiers come home to a country divided and distracted by internal politics. Our returning soldiers come home to find that the public has little interest in or understanding of what these soldiers have been through or what their service means to us. That is heartbreaking, but that is the reality of our lives today.

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Whether we individually agree with the military conflicts that our nation is involved in or not, all of us “own” that war as citizens of the United States. That’s how our country works. Every man and woman who wears the uniform overseas goes over there wearing the American flag, representing each one of us and our nation’s ideals. As our soldiers come back, they face new and different battles when they arrive: unemployment, inflation, apathy and indifference to name a few.

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Our veterans can teach our nation an important lesson. That lesson is that there is no threat that we cannot face and overcome together; there is no challenge we cannot figure out and find a solution to. Our veterans teach us that we are a nation and one country under God that does what is necessary to assure that future generations have opportunities to build their lives.

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Our soldiers have stories to tell. In my travels I was privileged to receive a photocopy of a letter from the First World War.

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Beaufort of Luximburg (sic) Nov. 26 1918

Dear father (sic)

Am writing you a few lines to let you know I am well and in pretty good health and improving every day am glad I can tell that the war is over and that I went to the front on the 23 of October and was there when the last shot was fired and I only got one wound and it was in the hand but it did not amount to very much…”

The soldier that wrote this letter had to walk across France to get to the coast, where he boarded a ship to come across the Atlantic Ocean and back home to Virginia. His story, his service and his dedication continued to live with his children and grandchildren. His grandson,  after serving in the United States Navy, worked for NASA and was instrumental in putting the first man on the moon. His great-grandson served in the Air Force with distinction and retired after 25 years. His great-great-granddaughter is a graduate from the Naval Academy, and is serving in the Navy on a submarine.

The stories of our soldiers continue to live in the accomplishments of their children and grandchildren.

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President John F. Kennedy wrote, “As we express our gratitude [to the veterans], we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them” (Veterans Day Quotes).

To keep faith in God’s faithful care and protection is easy when everything is going well. It is difficult, however, to keep such faith in times of danger and ever-looming peril. It is in the middle of the terrible fighting of the American Civil War that Julia Ward Howe proclaimed her confidence in God’s triumphant power in the song that we know today as The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

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Julia Howe was frustrated and anguished with the division in our country, the division that resulted in the Civil War. She appropriated a melody that was first used in Methodist Camp Meeting (*). In her own words, she “scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.” The hymn first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly Magazine in 1862, as a battle song for the republic. Before long the entire nation became inspired by her text and united in singing the new words with the old tune. This hymn still calls us to unity today, and it is as relevant today as it was in the days of the Civil War.

(*)(see https://daily.jstor.org/the-long-winding-history-of-the-battle-hymn-of-the-republic/ — para 5. Also see http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcestarters/battlehymn/pdf/battlehymn.pdf

“Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us”, the tune that eventually became associated with “John Brown’s Body” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic“, was formed in the American camp meeting circuit of the late 1700s and early 1800s. — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brown%27s_Body)

In verse 1 we hear, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;…” Have your eyes seen the coming of the glory of the Lord?

In verse 3 we hear “He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; … O be swift, my soul, to answer him; be jubilant, my feet!” Have you heard that trumpet? Is your soul swift to answer, are your feet jubilant?

In verse 4 we hear that Jesus’ glory “transfigures you and me;” and calls us to make it our business to bring the Freedom of Christ to all around us. Have you been transfigured by your relationship with Jesus?

Is Jesus your “wisdom and honor” (verse 5).

Today more than ever, this beloved hymn is calling us to work out our differences and to once again be the United States of America, to come together not as Republicans or Democrats, to come together not as Methodist or Presbyterians, not as Black or White or Asian, but as Americans.

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Thinking Towards Sunday; November 12, 2017

This Sunday we will Celebrate all those who served in the Military and their families.

Scriptures for this Sunday: 2 Timothy 1:6-10

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

This week our Opening and Closing Hymns will be led by Kelli and Jim playing guitars.

Our opening hymn will be: Let There Be Peace on Earth (UMH 431)

Our closing hymn will be: The Battle Hymn of the Republic (UMH 717)

 

Approximate Notes for Sunday Message; Genesis 32:22-31; November 5, 2017

Scripture for this Sunday will be the Story of Peniel (Jacob struggling with an Angel or the banks of Jabbok River): Genesis 32:22-31

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

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One of the episodes in the movie The Shack, shows the main hero (Mackenzie Allen Phillips) taking a rowboat across the lake. That episode reminds us of the time that the disciples were crossing the lake and were caught in a storm. Jesus showed up, walking on water, and calmed the storm. In the movie, however, something different happens. Mac was rowing his boat towards the opposite shore when he was overtaken by troubling and disturbing memories from his past. Immediately the water around his little boat turned dark, the boat sprang a leak and started sinking. That is when Jesus showed up and said, “Mac! Mac! That is happening inside of you! Look at me Mac, give me your hand! You are OK!” As soon as Mac focused on Jesus, his little rowboat stopped sinking and the water around him became clear again (Matthew 8:23-27, 14:22-33; Mark 4:35-41, 6:45-52; John 6:16-21).

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Something like that was happening to Jacob in today’s reading. His family was not the most dysfunctional family in the Bible, but it is in the top ten: most of that dysfunction stemmed from Jacob himself. Throughout his life, Jacob demonstrated a lack of discretion, honesty, empathy, love and patience. The deceptions that Jacob committed against his father, brother, and uncle came back to haunt him. That night at Jabbok river, Jacob was alone and the memories came flooding back. That night at Jabbok river was a turning point in Jacob’s life because he finally understood that he could not proceed into the future and be a bearer of God’s Blessing relying on his own devices.

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Jacob understood that he simply was not good enough on his own (Romans 3:10, 8:1). That struggle was indicative of Jacob’s understanding and accepting of responsibilities that come with God’s blessing. Jacob finally became consciously aware of the presence of God in the world around him and understood his human need for divine Grace.

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Through the struggle described in today’s reading God does not judge Jacob’s life and actions (John 3:17, 8:1-11). Jacob’s conviction comes from within.

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We see a similar moment in Peter’s life as well. When Jesus called Peter to follow him, “he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’” (Luke 5:8).

But Jesus did not walk away from Peter. God did not walk away from Jacob. We know that Jacob was forever changed by what happened that night. To magnify his internal and invisible transformation with signs of visible change, his name became Israel and he received a physical mark on his hip that caused him to limp (verse 31).

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As a born-again Christian, someone who is constantly challenged to face my own shortcomings and need of God’s Grace, what I see in today’s reading is Jacob’s moment of being born-again of the Spirit (John 3:3) for the very first time. Before that night Jacob knew about God; after that night Jacob knew God personally. In verse 30 he even said, “I have seen God face to face.”

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Jacob walked from that experience with increased hope and deeper faith. Hope is the ability to hear the melody of the future, to envision what the future might look like. Faith is the courage to dance to that melody today, to do what needs to be done so that the future becomes a reality.

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One of the most important lessons from the life of Jacob is that if you and I are to be molded by God into the Church of tomorrow, it will depend largely on the courage with which we respond to God today. It won’t be worked by God’s action alone…it works through our willing cooperation, our active acceptance and use of all the material we are offered, and adapting to our current environment. It does not happen overnight; it takes courage and boldness and a willingness to face God face to face even when such encounters damage our vanity and oppose our self-will.

{Celebrating the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

Thinking Towards Sunday; November 5, 2017

Scripture for this Sunday will be the Story of Peniel: Genesis 32:22-32

You can read these Scriptures here: {NIV and ESV}

For Monday Evening

Psalm 37: 4 Take delight in the Lord,
                    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

                         5 Commit your way to the Lord;
                                        trust in him and he will do this…

Our Christian life is a process of continual renewal. We were created to be constantly growing in our relationship with Jesus. This life of transformation happens as we constantly renew our thinking through the power of the Holy Spirit. God has given us the Scriptures so we can grow in our understanding and be transformed by the renewing of our mind.

But we must seek more than just intellectual knowledge. We must invite Jesus to enter our hearts and to become a part of our conscience. Apostle Paul wrote that true transformation also comes through experiential knowledge. He wrote in his Epistle to Ephesians, I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:16-20).

Question to think about: How did God touched my soul last week, what have I learned, and how have I changed as a result of that encounter?

Philippians 4: 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; October 15, 2017; Rachel and Leah

This week’s Scripture comes from Genesis 29:1-30

You can read this Scripture here: {NIV and ESV}

Hymns for October 15:

  • Opening: UMH 152 – I Sing the Almighty Power of God

  • Middle: UMH 61 – Come, Thou Almighty King (verses 1 & 4)

  • Closing: UMH 430 – O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee

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After an arduous journey, Jacob finally arrived at the camp of his uncle Laban. After the unsettling events at home and a dangerous journey, being in the safety of his uncle’s house was a welcome change. Laban had two daughters: Rachel and Leah. To describe them the Bible says:

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NIV Genesis 29:17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful.

What this line tells us is that Rachel had a fighting chance at the title of Miss Delaware; she was lovely in form and beautiful to see. Leah on the other hand … the most attractive thing about her was the fact that she wore really stylish glasses from Costco optical with really thick lenses.

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From the moment that Jacob laid his eyes on Rachel, he was in love. So when his uncle offered him a job, Jacob asked for Rachel’s hand in marriage in return. The agreement was that Jacob would work for SEVEN years before he was allowed to marry Rachel.

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NIV Genesis 29:20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.

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And by the way, it was not an easy gig to endure. Twenty years later, Jacob would describe his life working for his uncle in these words: “39 I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. 40 This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes” (Gen 31:39-40). Jacob’s love for Rachel was like the yeast of hope that sustained Jacob through these seven years so that this time “seemed like only a few days” (Gen 29:20).

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After seven years, Jacob came to his uncle and the conversation had to go something like:

  • “Uncle, I’ve done my part, now it’s your turn. It is time for the wedding.”

  • “Son, I don’t know how you do things in New York where you are from, but here in Newark we do not do anything half way. We need to slaughter animals and prepare the meat, we need to make cheese, we need to grind wheat so that we can bake bread, we need to print the wedding invitations and stuff them into those itsy-bitsy envelopes with wedding bells that women-folk are so fond of, we need to invite guests and make sure that there are adequate facilities for them, we need to audition musicians and select a band, we need to make sure that your bride’s gown is ready. Kid, you’ve waited seven years, what’s a couple more weeks. Let’s do things right…”

So the preparation for the wedding began. Animals were slaughtered, grain was ground, cheese was prepared, wine procured, wedding tents were set up. It took some time, but eventually everything was ready.

So the feast starts one morning. The custom of the time was that the feast would last for a whole week. Guests were congratulating Jacob and extending their good wishes on the upcoming nuptials (something like – Jacob – you lucky dog). If I had to guess, Jacob was fairly tipsy by the end of the day.

When darkness fell, Laban put his daughter in the tent, blew out the candle and walked away. A few minutes later Jacob came in to lay with his wife.

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The next morning, as the skies were turning grey, Jacob had his first chance to see his bride. Can you imagine his horror when he saw Leah’s thick glasses on the night table next to the woman he married. I can see him jumping up and taking off running towards Laban’s tent:

  • “Uncle Laban, Uncle Laban!”

  • “What time is it? It is only 5 AM; what could be so urgent Jake?”

  • “Uncle Laban, it is Leah, not Rachel…”

  • “Yeah …. And…?”

  • “But uncle Laban, I wanted to marry Rachel”…

  • “Well son, I don’t know how you do things in New York where you are from, but here in Newark we have certain customs and proprieties. If I were to allow you to marry Rachel before her older sister married, it would bring shame on Leah (Gen 29:26). I love both my daughters and I would not hurt Leah like that. And besides you wanted to marry my daughter, and you married my daughter. Celebrate, have a good time! And get busy, I want a lot of grandchildren.”

  • “But uncle Laban, what about Rachel? I love Rachel… You promised…”

  • “Well, OK. After all, you are my nephew. You worked seven years for your first wife, you will have to work seven years for your second wife. And because I am a nice guy, you do not have to wait another seven years to marry Rachel. I will let you marry her next week after we have PROPERLY celebrated Leah’s wedding.”

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Looking back, Rachel came to represent HOPE, while Leah came to represent the GRIND OF DAILY LIFE and PERSEVERANCE in Jacob’s life. All of us can relate to that.

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Between Rachel and Leah, Jacob had 13 children. Leah and her maidservant bore 9 children, and Rachel and her maidservant bore 4 children. Most of the children came from Leah. Children meant wealth, they worked for free, they supervised other workers, they were dedicated to the success of the family business. Although Rachel was loved more than Leah, Leah participated in building Jacob’s business by bearing twice as many children. In the long run, Jesus came from Leah, not from Rachel. Jesus is a descendant of King David, who is a descendant of Judah, who is the fourth son born to Leah and Jacob.

All of us live lives hoping for “Rachel” but we deal with “Leah” most of the time. But here is the kicker: if we deal with “Leah” long enough, we will get to “Rachel.” In other words: do not lose hope.

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{Illustration/(s)}

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Most of our journeys begins with a hope: that is “Rachel.” And then we discover the daily grind, obstacles, and difficulties that every life has to deal with. When we persevere and hold on to our hope and deal with “Leah” long enough, we will get to “Rachel.”

Hope is the ability to hear the melody of the future; Faith is the courage to dance to it today. And when we do that, the melody of the future becomes the reality of today.

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{Liturgy of Baptism}

{Liturgy of Reception into the Local Church}

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