Jeremiah 33:14-16 – Time Doesn’t Wait; It Unfolds

Jeremiah 33:14-16 (NRSV)

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

“Time doesn’t wait; it unfolds.”
– Paul Nelson

Waiting is without a doubt the hardest part of the Christian faith for me. This is something I noticed in myself a few years ago. I was probably reading one of Paul’s letters, and I noticed how he expects Jesus to return. He doesn’t just expect Jesus to return at some far flung date in the future. He expects Jesus to return soon—like later this afternoon soon OR maybe tomorrow, the next day, or by the end of the month. Or maybe it’ll take a little longer. Whatever the case, I get the impression that he expects Jesus to return within his life time so long as he doesn’t die first.

And what struck me is this: I don’t expect Jesus to return that soon. I expect him to return, sure. But if you really press me, I don’t really think he’ll return in my lifetime. I want him to return, but my confidence just isn’t that high.

And that makes me feel guilty. First, Jesus tells me to get ready—to wait for him. And second, I really am ready for him to finish his work. I’m tired of the influence that sin, death, and the devil have in my life. So I want him to return. I just don’t expect it to happen anytime soon, and that makes me wonder if I expect it to happen at all.

And I wonder if the people in Babylon wondered the same thing. They certainly feel the power of sin at work in their lives. Everything’s been taken from them. And so, like me, I’d imagine that they want God to act. They’re ready for that righteous branch to sprout from David’s line. But I can also imagine them wondering, “Is it even possible? It’ll probably happen, but not in our lifetime!”

But time doesn’t wait; it unfolds. What God declares will happen and time ticks away until it does. The coming of God’s promise is as sure as the passage of time. And so, just as God rescued his people from captivity, so to he promises to rescue me. He will come. He will return. It’s not a question of if, but simply when. And as each moment passes into the next time is unfolding to make that happen. Amen.

Mark 12:38–44 – Entrusted with a Gift

Mark 12:38–44 (NRSV)

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

I never really paid attention to the paragraph before the story of the widow’s offering—that paragraph about the teachers of the law who like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces. 

And so, it makes me feel sad for this woman who gives everything she has when the reading before it suggests that it will simply support these hypocritical, religious leaders. It feels like such a … waste. And so I wonder, “Is Jesus commending this woman for her willingness to give what she has to the Lord OR is he highlighting how the religious system of his day is robbing this woman of everything.” Perhaps he’s suggesting both.

And this reveals the difficult part of giving for me: trust. When I give my money away, I want to trust the people who are going to use it. I mean, I worked hard for my money. And if someone’s going waste it on long flowing robes and places of honor, I want to find someone who will use it better. 

Now, I’d like to think that’s a good desire. (And it probably is.) Yet I also recognize that I feel this way, because I like to think that my money belongs to me. But here’s the thing. While I care deeply about how this money is used, it’s ultimately not my money. It’s God’s money. 

And accepting that means that I have to consider all the money entrusted to me—both the money I give away and the money I use for vacations, house projects, eating out, etc. Because everything I have is a trust from God. And that’s a powerful thing, because God trusts me, and he trusts you too. He trusts you with all that you have that you might love and care for the world in which he’s placed us both. 

Amen.

James 5:13-18

James 5:13–18 (NRSV)

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

James’ letter calls to mind the limits of my ability. I am a man of action. I’m a problem solver. When things are not right, I want to fix them. I suppose that’s what I enjoy about our house projects, tinkering on the computer, working (in a very limited way) on the car, gardening in our front yard, and many other things. In these situations, I am given the power to change my circumstances and the world around me.

Yet, I am reminded that there are limits to my ability. Not everything can be fixed through the work of my hands, mind, or mouth. It’s a difficult, uncomfortable reality to accept. As a pastor, I regularly watch people wrestle with this transition as they age or fight illness.

And this is when James’ reminds us that this is exactly why we come to God in prayer, because nothing is beyond his control. And so, we can pray. We can pray for our lives and the lives of others. We can pray in times of need and distress and in times of joy and excitement, because nothing is beyond God’s control.

Prayer: Lord, help me to come to you in prayer. Help me to trust you in all circumstance. And thank you. Thank you for being there when the needs of this life are beyond my control. Amen.

Mark 9:30-37

Mark 9:30–37 (NRSV)

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus is moving and he’s near home, yet he doesn’t want people to know. He’s telling the disciples about his impending death and resurrection, but they just don’t get it. What gets me here—more than their lack of understanding—is their fear in asking questions. I wonder why that is. Are they afraid to look stupid? Are they afraid that Jesus will think less of them?

I’ve certainly found myself in situations in which I’m afraid to ask questions. It happens when I forget people’s names. Over the past few years, I’ve learned to carry on conversation without knowing someone’s name, but there’s a power in knowing and, what’s more, an embarrassment in not. Now, you can ask to find out, but then you have to admit. And too often that fear keeps me from asking, because I don’t want to look forgetful, inconsiderate or—even worse—like I don’t care.

Have you ever felt afraid or embarrassed to ask questions? In this reading, the disciples sure do.

And then there’s the competition. The disciples are also fighting about who’s best. And when you’re trying to look good, that just makes questions more risky, because you want to measure up and make the mark. And perhaps that’s why Jesus reminds his disciples and us that we’ve already made the mark in his eyes. We’ve already won his love and support, and so even when we’re afraid or embarrassed there’s no question that’s to hard or big or deep for us to ask of him.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for showing me again and again that I measure up in your eyes. Help me now to entrust my worries and fears, doubts and anxieties to your care, trusting that in you there is no question to big to ask, amen.

Psalm 146

Psalm 146 (The Message)

Hallelujah!
O my soul, praise GOD!
All my life long I’ll praise GOD,
singing songs to my God as long as I live.

Don’t put your life in the hands of experts
who know nothing of life, of salvation life.
Mere humans don’t have what it takes;
when they die, their projects die with them.
Instead, get help from the God of Jacob,
put your hope in GOD and know real blessing!
GOD made sky and soil,
sea and all the fish in it.
He always does what he says—
he defends the wronged,
he feeds the hungry.
GOD frees prisoners—
he gives sight to the blind,
he lifts up the fallen.
GOD loves good people, protects strangers,
takes the side of orphans and widows,
but makes short work of the wicked.

GOD’s in charge—always.
Zion’s God is God for good!
Hallelujah!

Today, it strikes me that there are so many “experts” into whose hands I regularly place my life. I think about all the trips I’ve made to the hospital in my life—too many if you ask me—and the way in which I’ve quite literally placed my life in their hands. When I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I trusted an expert. When I was hit by a car, I put my life in the hand of an expert. And then there are the times I’ve seen counselors, visited specialists, and consulted advisors.

And I’m sure that I’m not alone. We place our lives in the hands of experts all the time. Just consider:

  • Every time you stop at a red light, you trust the expert who installed the brakes in your car.
  • Every time you take some medicine, you trust the expert who discovered or prescribed it.
  • Every time you deposit a check, you trust the expert who will process the money.

There are so many different ways in which we place our lives in the hands of experts. And today’s psalm reminds us that behind everyone of these experts is The Expert—the one who created and sustains all things—the one who fashioned the human body and gave it the capacity to learn—the one who designed in us all our creative and destructive abilities.

This is the expert into whose hands we cannot help but place our lives, and we can trust him. As the psalmist writes, he reigns forever. He watches over us. No person receives power apart from him, and no good deed is accomplished without him. This is the Lord, the God of Zion, and it’s in his hands that our lives are secure.

Amen.

Psalm 119:129–136

Psalm 119:129–136 (NRSV)

Your decrees are wonderful;
therefore my soul keeps them.
The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.
With open mouth I pant,
because I long for your commandments.
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your custom toward those who love your name.
Keep my steps steady according to your promise,
and never let iniquity have dominion over me.
Redeem me from human oppression,
that I may keep your precepts.
Make your face shine upon your servant,
and teach me your statutes.
My eyes shed streams of tears
because your law is not kept.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by all of the big, important questions in life? The other morning, I was considering just how many big questions we face. Here are just a few that come to mind:

  • What do I want to do when I grow up?
  • Is it alright to do this when we’re dating?
  • How do you know if she’s the one?
  • Should we start a family?
  • When will I want to retire?
  • Should I change jobs?
  • Am I too old to be driving at night?
  • Would mom want to be on a ventilator?

There are so many big questions in life. And it seems like the more time passes, the more big questions we can actually answer. I mean, a hundred years ago, if my father was a farmer, I’d never ask the question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” I’d already know: a farmer. And I’m mostly glad to have that big decision on my shoulders. The same goes for the woman I marry.

At the same time, it strikes me that many of these questions come with a great burden. I mean, now it’s my responsibility to figure out what I want to do when I grow up … or who I’ll marry … or if I should have kids … or what gender I am … or even when and how I want to die.

That’s a burden, especially when there are many times better and worse ways to answer these questions. It’s a lot of pressure, and as I reflect upon the law of the Lord with psalmist today, this is why it is such a gift to me. Although it doesn’t answer everything and often times raises more questions than it gives answers, I give thanks that the Lord imparts understanding to a simple person like me.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your law. Thank you for guiding my life. Help me to know it better that I might always follow you. In Jesus’ name, amen.